Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, Shares His Refugee Journey with SMA Prep Cadets

Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, shares his remarkable journey as a refugee from Mogadishu to Maine and offers SMA Prep cadets a unique “outside – in” perspective of America. His story is powerful and ties into this year’s Inspire Project pathway: Project Equality. Cadets are exploring equality, tolerance, and, discrimination across gender, race, and ethnicity.

As a child growing up in Mogadishu, Abdi first knew of America when US Marines came to his village to provide food and places to eat because their presence allowed for peace. “I thought they were aliens.”  Abdi had never seen anyone that looked different than him.  He described his life in Mogadishu as difficult. There is no public service and there is also a war. He taught himself English from movies and began to feel that he was no different than any other child.  He grew a love of America and gained the nickname “American Abdi” and he knew that one day he would get there, even though it was not easy traveling 10,000 miles to the U.S.

“All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance.”

Many of his coworkers think of Africa as all the same. There are different languages and culture throughout Africa. In his book, he wanted people to see the human side of the refugee story. “All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance. I was just like every American kid who wants to be inspired by something. Everything you have is a privilege.”

The hardest part about adjusting to American was the lack of diversity where he lives in Maine. The weather was also a shock having come from a consistently warmer climate. He also described the more humorous side of learning about a new culture. “Ordering a coffee at Dunkin Donuts drove me crazy. In Kenya you just say coffee and they give me coffee, but here you have to say so many things.” He says he now sticks with hot chocolate.

SMA-Cadet MacCloud was reminded, “how to not take for granted all we have here. Mr. Iftin notices every little thing for example how many types of crackers are available at Walmart.”

When asked what drove him to keep surviving he replied, “Many times, I almost gave up on hope. As long as I was breathing and living another day, I needed to do everything it takes to get myself out of the life I was living at the time. I connected to the rest of the world through my stories. Teaching myself English motivated me because I was able to communicate to a wider audience.”

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA) is a public charter, (6th-12th) located on 2 campuses in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at www.sarasotamilitaryacademy.org

Stanford Professor Emeritus and World-Renowned Psychologist, Dr. Zimbardo Challenges SMA Prep Cadets to Train for Everyday Heroic Action

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University introduced cadets at SMA Prep to the Heroic Imagination Project of which he is the founder and president. Many know of Dr. Zimbardo for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment along with many other notable works. Currently, he is focused on motivating people to no longer be bystanders and instead take action to have a positive impact on the world around them.

Growing up in poverty in the Bronx in the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Zimbardo often wondered how it was that some of his friends in the neighborhood grew up to be “bad” kids while others grew up to be “good” kids. As he refocuses his pursuit of understanding human behavior, he has established a new approach by asking, “how do ordinary people act heroically? Being introduced to the Heroic Imagination Project, cadets began to make their own connections with issues such as bullying and intolerance that can also be a part of their adolescent lives.

“Heroism starts in the mind.”

The larger question Dr. Zimbardo posed to cadets was, “Can anyone be a hero?” and emphasized the need to teach people to move away from being passive and instead to help people and situations that are in distress. Other questions came to light such as how to eliminate stereotypes and become more accepting of others as well as the value of developing a growth mindset as opposed to a mindset that is fixed and unchangeable. Dr. Zimbardo imparted to cadets that success in life depends on mindset, are you thinking into the future or are you stuck in the present only seeking immediate reward?

Dr. Zimbardo speaks to cadets this year for Project Equality which is one of the pathways developed through The Inspire Project created by SMA-MAJ Todd Brown who teaches 8th-grade Individuals & Societies as well as Civics. Brown has been cultivating this program over 5 years and it has positively impacted many students. SMA Cadet-CPL Grace Wagler is currently attending SMA High School and shared this about Dr. Zimbardo, “something that really stuck with me was the idea that just as normal people can take on “evil” roles so easily, normal people can also take on roles as heroes. This was an interesting concept and I think it is amazing that DrZimbardo used the findings from an experiment that sort of went south (Stanford Prison Experiment) to inspire people to become everyday heroes.”.

Dr. Zimbardo is also involved in the green school movement with the goal to empower kids across the world as Eco-Heros. He currently works with schools in 18 countries and Green School in Bali is particularly impressive. SMA Prep was awarded the Green Flag award from Eco-Schools USA through the National Wildlife Federation. The connection to other green schools offers a unique opportunity for SMA Prep cadets to collaborate on a global level.

Dr. Zimbardo and his team believe, “Most people want to take effective action in challenging situations, they just don’t know how.” He is hoping to train a new generation of heroes, “suggesting that each and every seemingly ordinary person on this planet is capable of committing heroic acts”.

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA) is a public charter, (6th-12th) located on 2 campuses in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at www.sarasotamilitaryacademy.org

About Heroic Imagination Project

The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) develops and implements education programs, research, and public initiatives to inspire and encourage everyday heroism. Our mission is to encourage and empower individuals to take heroic action during crucial moments in their lives. We prepare them to act with integrity, compassion, and moral courage, heightened by an understanding of the power of situational forces. More information is available at www.heroicimagination.org.

 

Diversity at SMA

Friends and Families,
This past week has been at the least interesting, and at the most – nearly – divisive. This week the leadership with the Sarasota County Schools released a document providing their guidance for gender diverse populations. Please understand that these are not policy, but rather a guiding document for schools to refer. I would like to set all of your minds at ease by expressing the following guidance from the SMA Leadership Team:
  • First and foremost, ALL cadets, regardless of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, gender and gender orientation, age, disability, marital status, and sexual orientation are valued as members of our community and will be treated with RESPECT.
  • Any type of harassment will not be tolerated, and any accusations of harassment should be reported immediately.
  • Sharing of personal cadet information is a violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
With these understandings in place, and under the guidance of best practices and policies, the accommodations to be implemented in the case of gender diverse cadets are based on case by case circumstances by a team that considers the health, wellness, and academic success of all cadets impacted.
  • Gender diverse refers to the social construct that may include gender identity and gender expression.
  • The determination of accommodations for the gender diverse cadet will be determined by a team that includes the cadet, administration, parent/guardian, counseling, and an advocate if requested.
  • A plan will be developed that meets the privacy needs of the gender diverse cadet, as well as all cadets.
  • Uniforms will be issued to match the most consistently identified gender identity as determined by the team. This guideline is supported by JROTC protocol.
  • Restroom use will be determined and agreed upon by the team to ensure privacy and comfort levels of all cadets. There are multiple types of restrooms on each campus, to include; single use and traditional with multiple private stalls. These restrooms are for the use of all cadets, but if your cadet has a legitimate privacy concern, the use of the single use restroom may be made available at administration’s discretion. Any cadets have concerns for their own privacy should speak first with the Teacher, and any accommodations will be approved by administration.
  • Locker Rooms use will be determined and agreed upon by the team to ensure privacy and comfort levels of all cadets. Each locker room has privacy options available, and the scheduled use of locker rooms can be arranged to address any privacy concerns. Any cadets have concerns for their own privacy should speak first with the Teacher, and any accommodations will be approved by administration.
I cannot stress enough that each individual within our SMA family must at all times be treated with respect, as this is a foundational value of who we are. I fully trust the integrity of our cadets, staff, and faculty to value every individual and provide them with this respect. If you have any follow up questions or concerns, I would be happy to meet with you. Please feel free to email me at fred.fout@oursma.org, or make an appointment through the front office to meet with me.
Respectfully,
SMA-LTC Frederick T. Fout
Head of School

Trisha Yearwood Kicks Off Inspire Project Speaker Series

Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning artist and best-selling cookbook author Trisha Yearwood challenged SMA cadets to exceed expectations as she kicked off The Inspire Project Speaker Series for 2018-19. Ms. Yearwood is known for her moving vocals, her love of storytelling and her delicious southern recipes. SMA cadets responded to the down-home and down to earth charm that has become a trademark in her professional life. The focus of this year’s campus-wide initiative is Project Equality and Trisha Yearwood was gracious enough to spend some time taking questions from SMA Prep cadets.

When asked why she picked music to pursue over other interests, Mr. Yearwood responded, “music picked me, I just knew I wanted to be a singer, but if I hadn’t become a singer I might probably have become an accountant”. Ms. Yearwood was simply always passionate about music.

What drives Ms. Yearwood to keep up with all her success? She admits to being very competitive even if she isn’t good at something. She credits her mom and dad for being a  risk-taker, and her sense of adventure in trying new things. Her dad is the reason she fell in love with music, played guitar and sang. Her mom was the driving force that let me know as a woman she could do what she wanted and be happy. Ms. Yearwood stated that her parents are her “heroes”.

As far as being a woman in business, Ms. Yearwood pointed out that there are some challenges but you need to work hard no matter what and don’t let any excuse get in your way. As she was entering the music business, she is thankful that she had Reba McEntire as her mentor to help navigate as Trisha Yearwood began her early music career.

Cadets also received some words of wisdom on time management. She admitted to not really have time for everything she has going on in her life. “There are baseballs in the air and some fall on the ground. I try to choose what I can do well and learn how to say no. You can’t be a people pleaser because then you won’t do anything well.”

Responding to the question of liking school or not, Ms. Yearwood gave an honest answer. “I hated it and I liked it. My mom was a teacher and she was my teacher in the 3rd grade in a very small school. I was a self-proclaimed nerd and an “A” student who got involved in everything.” She clarified that it was music that was what she had always loved to do.

A large part of what The Inspire Project is about is to offer young people 1st hand accounts of what it is like to pursue your dreams. Cadets are always curious if people who become successful ever had to deal with failure. Ms. Yearwood mentioned that she is competitive and doesn’t enjoy failure. However, a person begins to appreciate failures as the successes become sweeter. “Learning what doesn’t work is just as important what does work. It is what you do after that that matters.”

Perseverance is a character trait that many cadets work to build every day. Mr. Yearwood shared that she never thinks about quitting, but that the true answer is there are moments when you just want to give up. You get past those moments and deep down even with a bad experience you have to know you don’t give up.

Sharing her strong sense of humor made this a relatable and fun experience for cadets. Ms. Yearwood stated that if she were not able to sing, she might be in prison. Even though her cookbooks have turned into a completely different career she says that she would always pick music. “If I weren’t successful in other things, I’d still find a way to sing in my local honky tonk.”