by npatano on April 21, 2022
Today at 6 p.m., the Black studies program is hosting a book launch to celebrate the publication of Akeem Lloyd’s book You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved. In addition to teaching T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. in the Black studies program, Lloyd is a youth inspirational speaker with AkeemSpeaks and the CEO of A Leadership Journey. He believes that to understand how the organizations and his debut book came into being, one must understand his experience.
Lloyd was raised by his grandparents in Atlantic City, NJ, who taught him indispensable lessons that made him who he is today. When Lloyd started preparing for college, he participated in the Education Opportunity Fund at Rutgers University-Camden. EOF helps young people who do not have the financial resources to go to college with financial, academic, and career support.
Along with approximately 40 other people, Lloyd spent the summer taking classes similar to remedial high school classes. He soon found that he was not prepared for them and was told by his math teacher that he would fail out of the program. This was the first time that Lloyd realized he had the opportunity to be the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year institution, and he did not want to squander it. He worked hard for the remainder of the program and was able to go to college. Lloyd explained that this moment and the whole program “changed the trajectory of my life.” After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies from Rutgers in 2010, Lloyd received his master’s in urban education from Temple University.
In 2016, AkeemSpeaks was launched to help Lloyd share his story and his truth with young people. AkeemSpeaks has allowed Lloyd to “work with young people [and] support young people in a way that I never imagined.” He realized that through his conversation with the youth, he could figure out what their challenges were and what they were actually experiencing. What became his “driving force” and the purpose of his work was the mental and emotional health of young people.
In the same year he began AkeemSpeaks, Lloyd also had the opportunity to go to South Africa to be part of a leadership team from an organization that was based out of Boston. This was the first time Lloyd traveled out of the country as an adult, feeling like this was “about to be the biggest adult experience I have ever had.”
Lloyd became apprehensive when he learned that he would have to raise money because he had previously struggled to raise funds for another program he was working on. His grandmother told him, “If you really want to go, give yourself a chance.” This gave Lloyd the motivation to fundraise despite his original apprehension, and “before I knew it, I was able to raise enough money to get me to South Africa.”
When he arrived, Lloyd realized that in a group of at least 20 to 25 people, there were only three people of color and he was the only Black man. Despite the trip ultimately being a success for Lloyd, he could not stop thinking about what this meant for the opportunities available to “the young people who look like me.” Lloyd recognized this trip as a resume booster for the white youth who were fortunate enough to attend and will be able “to talk about how these experiences helped shape them, helped educate them, [and] helped prepare them.” Leaving South Africa, Lloyd started wondering what it would mean if the young people who look like him had this experience.
When Lloyd brought his idea back home, he and his friends immediately decided to start fundraising: “We are going to give ourselves a chance.”
Lloyd described the beginning stages of A Leadership Journey like “we’re building the plane as we’re trying to fly it.” As they were fundraising, they were also meeting twice a month about what ALJ needed to be. Lloyd knew that the organization needed to have “a holistic approach” and that it “needed to be more than just a travel program.” After they decided this, next came the group’s values: equity, access, health and wellness, and education.
ALJ focused on youth aged 13-18 because “those populations don’t always have access to opportunities like the one that we wanted to provide.” However, “in order to give them access,” Lloyd stated, “we also had to make it equitable.” Lloyd did not want families to put themselves at a financial disadvantage in order to have their children participate in such an experience. Education was the most important value of ALJ, with the understanding that “education doesn’t always have to be classroom-related.”
In June 2017, ALJ took their first cohort to South Africa, and this was when Lloyd realized that “A Leadership Journey really needed to be a thing” for young people.
10 months later, ALJ took its second cohort to South Africa and received 501(c)(3) status; “and ALJ was now a thing.” In 2019, the third cohort went to Kenya. 2020’s trip could not happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But last year, the fourth cohort from ALJ managed a successful trip to Ghana.
With AkeemSpeaks and ALJ now thriving, Lloyd found himself “being encouraged to think about taking a chance in the classroom as a teacher.” Even though he had been encouraged for years by his mentors, Lloyd did not think that it was for him. Despite this, Lloyd’s experience with youth development and teaching began when he was just 14 as a peer mentor at the Boys & Girls Club in Atlantic City. Teaching became more important to Lloyd’s work with ALJ, as part of his responsibilities were programming and curriculum building.
Lloyd first considered becoming a professor after speaking at an event hosted by the global studies department at Providence College. He met and stayed in contact with the leaders of the event, trying to “connect global studies and ALJ in a way that we could collaborate.” After mentioning his desire to teach, Lloyd was put in contact with Dr. Zophia Edwards, director of the Black studies program and an associate professor of sociology. Edwards “provided a space [for Lloyd] to talk about what I already had going on” and was looking into how Lloyd could become a professor. Dr. Trina Vithayathil, chair of the global studies department, made this dream into a reality.
Vithayathil invited Lloyd to serve as a community fellow for her class “Comparative Race and Inequality,” giving him the opportunity to co-teach a college class in the global studies department. This was the first step to Lloyd becoming a professor, his “launching pad.” Lloyd was approved to be the professor of a curriculum that he designed himself, which he is teaching this semester on the topic of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.
In November 2021, Lloyd began writing You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved. The idea for the book began in 2018 as he began his workshops by telling young people “I see you, I hear you, I love you.” He felt that it was not only important for him to say, but for them to hear.
Lloyd was inspired to begin writing after he received praise from his friends and colleagues on another book he was wrapping up and after seeing the statistics on how COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges young people were already experiencing. He stopped working on the other book “to help move this conversation forward in a positive way, in a very intentional way.” He thought, “If this book could help move this conversation forward, then I’m going to write it. And so I did.”
Lloyd explained that the book’s title is a “universal message” for everyone to feel seen, to feel heard, and to be loved. He wrote it, however, keeping in mind that the majority of communities served by AkeemSpeaks were predominantly students of color. “I want every young person who feels as though they are invisible because they feel like a social outcast, or they feel isolated, to be seen in the stories that are written in the book.” He also hopes to inspire young people by giving them something to believe in, “something to hold onto.”
While You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved was written with young people in mind, Lloyd hopes it reaches adult audiences as well. Lloyd hopes that parents and guardians read his book to provoke conversations surrounding wellness; to encourage more involvement; and to “break the cycle, break the stigma, [and] start creating a new, positive narrative around wellness.” He believes that lawmakers who read the book should be provoked to do more, to move this from conversation to written laws with financial support behind them.
Lloyd emphasized that “this book isn’t about me.” While he used pieces of his own story that aligned with the stories and anecdotes he used, he wanted to “amplify the voices of young people.” By including bits of his story, though, Lloyd is saying, “No, I’m not just speaking on this because I see it, I’m speaking on this because I lived it.”
Everything in the book falls under the three chapters, titled, “You Are Seen,” “You Are Heard,” “You Are Loved.” One of Lloyd’s favorite parts of the book is a compilation of the struggles and challenges that young people in his workshops have faced. It is his favorite part because “of how authentic they are.” If the stories do not show you that this is real, Lloyd explained, then “maybe these real pieces of paper with real challenges on them will.”
Lloyd emphasized that You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved is necessary at PC so that PC students can be more honest about what they are feeling and advocate for more services and support on campus. While Lloyd mainly works with people under the age of 18, he opens his book with a quote from a college freshman to demonstrate how applicable its lessons are to even college students who may act like they have everything figured out or that “everything is alright when it isn’t.”
At the end of the book, Lloyd encourages his readers to use the #mystorywill to share positive affirmations and stories with him and a community reaching thousands of people. Lloyd hopes that someone can read how people responded to this prompt on social media and be inspired.
You can purchase You Are Seen, You Are Heard, You Are Loved on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, or AkeemWrites.com. Once you make a purchase, reach out to Lloyd via social media so that he can send you a gift as a token of his gratitude.