At the age of 18, Mahlik Smith is one step closer to becoming Youth of the Year of the National Boys and Girls Club.
Gaining the Regional title Tuesday at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Smith now moves on to the national competition, with the potential to receive an additional $50,000 college scholarship and an opportunity to be honored at a Congressional breakfast, meeting President Barack Obama in the fall.
The Youth of the Year program celebrates 14 to 18 year-old student members’ outstanding contributions to their family, school, community and their Boys & Girls Club.
The award recognizes academic excellence, moral character, life goals, poise and public speaking, as well as personal challenges and obstacles they’ve overcome.
As a senior at McClymonds High School, Smith will graduate this June with a 3.5 grade-point average. He plans to attend Hampton University as a pre-medical student with the goal of becoming a sports medicine doctor, combining his passions for both sports and medicine.
Smith’s road to graduation has not been easy, being the youngest of six boys raised by a single mother in West Oakland. He says that growing up in Oakland, he always heard that his chances for survival as a African American male were bleak.
“I believe growing up in poverty can rob a child’s life,” he says of the challenges and negative temptations that youth face today.
“I remember many nights waking up afraid, because of the gun shots,” he said. “I’ve lost count of the funerals I’ve attended for friends and the violence I’ve witnessed and had to maneuver through, which tried to break my spirit.”
Smith says it was the Boys and Girls Club that changed everything for him. “I can recall days where I had to make a choice between friends, the streets or the club.”
Eventually, the club chose him, because God knew that is where he needed to be, said Smith.
Growing up, Smith said, his mother had to use government resources to survive, such as Section 8 housing assistance, food stamps, free lunches and clothing donations. “My family’s trials and tribulations are the motivating factors that move me to never stop working towards success, graduating college, and becoming financially stable.”
Smith contributes a big part of his determination to a club staff member, Rodney Cook, who held him accountable for his homework, his actions and wouldn’t accept excuses from him. “He would tell me, ‘Mahlik, be a leader, not a follower.’ Hearing that year after year taught me to be a positive influence to my friends and in my community,” he said.
Smith is an active member of the Youth Outreach Program at his church, Olivet Missionary Baptist Church of Oakland. He serves on the City of Oakland’s Youth Commission Advisory board, speaking up for and giving voice to Oakland’s youth.
In 2014, he earned the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Community Service Award. He says it was on a college tour with the club that he realized he would go to college.