Zainab Adisa, “Z” to most, lost both her parents at a young age. Her father died when she was 9, and she lost her mother to breast cancer two years ago. She lives in Garfield with her big brother, Habeeb, who is 23.
Z, 17, has been interested in issues of global community and peace since she started traveling with Children’s International Summer Villages when she was 10.
“The main goal is bridging global friendships through peace education,” she says about the organization. “We want people around the world to be aware that we’re open-minded people.”
As a high school senior, she studies literary arts at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, the creative and performing arts magnet school, Downtown.
Z spends a lot of her free time with The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh, a youth media training program in which high school kids film their own TV program.
Carl Kurlander, CEO of Steeltown Entertainment Project, the South Side nonprofit that supports The Reel Teens, says Z truly stands out for her commitment to the program.
When Grable Foundation CEO Greg Behr called Kurlander to get a referral for a local teen to take to the SXSWedu Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas, Kurlander didn’t miss a beat.
“I thought of her immediately because she’s articulate and wonderful about all this,” Kurlander says.
“Some kids are from well-to-do families and get dropped off here or drive their parent’s car,” he says. “Z takes three buses to get here and never complains and always shows up and is amazing.”
The topic of discussion was “Remaking Learning in Mr. Rogers’ New Neighborhood.” Their message showed how Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning network of educators and innovators inspires lifelong learners.
With a focus on hands-on learning, a topic in which Z is increasingly interested, she accepted the offer.
“Teens need another way of learning outside the mainstream classroom learning experience,” she says. “It’s important to touch things, work with things, experience things.”
Z had felt somewhat adrift after losing her mother, but her involvement with Reel Teens gave her a boost. The group “helped me find a new passion for film and for exploring the city,” she says.
“After her mother died she suffered a quiet period,” Kurlander says. “Reel Teens really helped her find her voice again, and she’s exactly the kind of voice we need in this world. That’s what’s so inspiring about this.”
Her trip to Austin and the chance to spend time with the other panelists was a great experience, she says.
“It was interesting to see all the people and talk to so many with a similar mindset,” Z says. “The thing I’m going to take away from it is that it’s possible to do a lot of things, no matter where you may come from.”
Z represented Pittsburgh youth well, Behr says.
“She was spectacularly poised, conveying not only a youthful view about what it means, or might mean, to remake learning,” he says, “but also a wise view about how we might think about learning without barriers/walls, that genuinely draws upon multiple views, and viewpoints.”
Soon, Z will write the next page in her personal script. She’s been accepted and is leaning toward attending Susquehanna University because of its strong writing program, and its emphasis on studying abroad. She’s hoping to decide in early May. The plan right now is to eventually work in international relations and photojournalism.
“I think she could have an amazing career in film or television if she wanted to,” Kurlander says. “More importantly, she can combine media with her passion for the world and politics and global community. I think Z’s future is amazing.”