By Rich Bockmann
Ask Jamaica teenager Zahra Abd’Allah if it is true she used to be shy, and she will be quick to correct you.
“I was introverted,” she said assuredly last week inside the city Parks Department’s Roy Wilkins Recreation Center on Baisley Boulevard, where she found her inner confidence while participating in a poetry workshop.
And now she plans to help others realize their full potential through Parks’ recreation programs as one of the department’s Rising Stars.
Abd’Allah, 17, was one of three Queens teens recently honored with the award, which recognizes those who have exhibited dedication and leadership throughout their years in the rec centers, and then asks them to inspire other youths with their stories.
“Being a Rising Star is going to give me the opportunity to volunteer a little more and teach workshops,” she said.
The Barbados native is home schooled, and she began taking swimming and golf lessons as physical education.
Abd’Allah said she has traveled as far as Staten Island as part of the Wilkins Center’s swim team. The Rising Stars program was started in Queens four years ago, and this year Parks will expand it to all five boroughs, giving the teens the chance to inspire other youngsters across the city.
Abd’Allah said she realized the power of poetry when she and her 13-year-old brother, Husain, performed a poem they wrote about the department for a public service announcement.
“‘Everybody’s talking about saving the earth/Let’s talk about the community first,’” she recited from the poem. “I want to show that poetry isn’t boring. People think it is, but it’s the way you deliver and do it that makes it exciting.”
Her next project is a piece informing people of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program.
“I’m trying to do something to help the community,” she said. “It’s positive poetry.”
Abd’Allah’s mother, Allene, said she saw how performing changed her daughter.
“She was afraid and scared of people,” she said. “She blossomed. Now she’s not afraid anymore.”
The ambitious teenager just attended four days’ worth of motivational workshops at the Disney’s Dreamer Academy in Florida, and said in the future she would like to be an alternative medicine doctor.
“I actually saw my grandmother die from oxygen depletion. I held on to this hope that I can help others,” she said.
Two teens from the Sorrentino rec center in Far Rockaway, Tolulope “Andre” Olatunbosun and Akeela Williams, were also named Rising Stars.
“Our recreation centers offer free opportunities for Queens youth to participate in a new sport, learn about technology or keep fit,” said Queens Chief of Recreation Iris Rodriguez-Rosa. “These Rising Stars are some of our most dedicated teen members, who have now taken the initiative to volunteer and help others learn the skills they acquired.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.