From the time he came to Mount Vernon, Jaden Ward, Class of 2022, has been influenced by teachers and encouraged to follow his passions, to be an advocate for change and a solution seeker. From an internship with the Sandy Springs Mayor’s Office to fighting against homelessness and standing up for social injustices, Jaden is exploring his curiosities and impacting change in his local community. Read below as Jaden shares how his passion has grown and has been encouraged in his years at MV.

I first became interested in social justice work in 7th grade, when I started at Mount Vernon. In my English Literature class taught by Mr. Hanson, my peers and I were assigned a Servant Leadership Project. Throughout the course of the project, we were to research social issues at Mount Vernon or in our local community.

I chose the issue of homelessness, in regards to its prevalence in the metro-Atlanta area, as well as how people fall into the state of homelessness. Over the course of the class, I had become extremely interested in homelessness as a whole and the experience of being a social advocate for change in the fight against homelessness. 

Fast-forward to my first year in the Upper School, and I had the opportunity to join multiple homeless organizations in order to get to the “meat and bone” of real hands-on social justice work.

From HashtagAtlantaLunchBag to Mini Cities, I have procured and delivered meals to homeless individuals all around downtown Atlanta while also assisting in distributing NFC wristbands, a new digital gadget of Mini Cities, which allows homeless individuals to store all of their necessary personal/work related information, like birth certificates and work resumes, to allow them to interact more easily with the goods and services of modern day society.

During these experiences, I found that my overall goal and passion is to improve the intersection of social justice and technology. To do this, I decided to create my very own solution to the issue of homelessness, through the intersection of policy work and innovation, utilizing the application of hotels.

In 10th grade, in Mr. Dumke’s AP Gov class, we were instructed to create a legitimate policy that would create awareness of a social issue while also instituting change. The founder of Mini Cities, India Hayes, was impressed with my project and offered me an internship.

Over the course of this internship, I connected with a former member of Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) who also really liked my idea. In fact, he liked my idea so much that he helped me network with the right people at CCI, which helped me secure an internship over the summer to work side-by-side with experts in the field of policy work. Unfortunately, when the COVID-19 pandemic fell across the country, my internship with CCI ended early, but that didn’t stop me. 

During the summer of 2020, I participated in multiple peaceful protests against the proponents of racism and oppression. At this time, Mrs. Hoyos reached out to me with an opportunity to connect with the Sandy Springs Mayor’s Office in regards to finding ways of talking to young people about issues and biases regarding race.

Intrigued by this opportunity, I decided to invite some other peers at Mount Vernon in order to help generate ideas for how the mayor’s office could connect with young people about race. Throughout many weeks, my team and I would generate ideas, present them to the diversity correspondent of the office, receive feedback, make improvements, and return them to her.

By the end of our time together I had learned so much about proposing, revising, and implementing solutions that I decided to go a step further and help implement real solutions at Mount Vernon. Currently I am working with Ms. Villafane and fellow Mount Vernon students, to create fun and informative activities about race for students over the course of Black History Month.

To date, we have created three different walk-through experiences, “The Pyramid of Hate,” “The Pyramid of Allyship,” and “The Pyramid of Accountability.”

In the “Pyramid of Hate” exhibit, students will be able to see, first-hand, the levels of racism and discrimination that can exist in society, beginning from specific biased attitudes and sterotypical perspectives all the way up to throughs of potential genocide.

The “Pyramid of Allyship” exhibit offers students examples of how to be a social advocate for change, as well as the levels of impact one can make in the cumulative fight against racial prejudice. For example, the first level of being an ally of the minority community at Mount Vernon is to do research on historical concepts of discriminative practices as well as modern day examples of discrimination. In short, begin to familiarize yourself with the history of prejudice.

In the “Pyramid of Accountability” exhibit, students can propose their own initiatives for how they can become an ally. Additionally, this exhibit also emphasizes the importance of educating not only yourself, but those around you.

Thank you, Jaden, for being an engaged citizen leader in your community. We are MV proud!