Danielle Burrows and Nadirah Nichols began their mentorship in fall 2011 when Nadirah was an eleven-year old sixth grader. Today, Nadirah’s 14 and finishing eighth grade at the Truebright Science Academy Charter School. We caught up with Danielle recently to find out how it’s going and how she likes being a mentor.
What kind of kid is Nadirah? What kinds of things does she like?
I wasn’t surprised to discover that Nadirah’s the youngest in her family because you sense right away that she’s spent a lot of time absorbing adult banter. She’s quick-witted and precocious, but not in a way that robs her of her youthfulness. I’m blown away by her ability to churn out writing that is paced and executed in a style not far removed from young adult literature. She was one of the first kids through the door at Mighty Writers. She is an avid reader and especially loves young adult author Sharon Draper.
“It’s been a privilege to watch Nadirah grow as a person and a writer.”
What does Nadirah like to write about?
In our first few weeks of meeting, Nadirah decided to write a long-form story about twin brothers separated at birth and reunited as teenagers—at which point they secretly switch lives in efforts to find their birth parents. She and I both gravitate toward young adult novels and playful fiction along the lines of “The Parent Trap,” so the premise felt like a good fit. However, I knew the concept of switched identities—and therefore of aliases and dramatic irony—would require keen attention to detail and consistency. This is where Nadirah excels. We’d occasionally hit points in the story where an action had to be justified: i.e. Why did one the protagonist’s rich parents adopt him in the first place if they were only going to treat him badly? Nadirah’s ability to justify her characters’ choices, and the swiftness with which she conjures up scenarios that align perfectly with the details of the larger story, never ceases to amaze me.
Nadirah’s story clocks in at about nine thousand words.
What’s the best part of the mentorship for you?
Watching Nadirah realize the significance of her own achievements. A few years back, her soccer team visited the White House and spent the day with Michelle Obama. It’s a privilege she appreciates more now than she did then. The same soccer team was featured in a documentary, and I joined Nadirah and her Mom at the screening almost two years ago. When we go back and read the early chapters of her story, I can tell she feels that her writing voice was far more childlike than it is today. But she also verbalizes her delighted disbelief over how much she’s written (her story, which is just about complete, clocks in at about nine thousand words). It’s been a privilege to watch her grow as a person and writer.
How important is the mentorship to you?
In 2012, I was offered a four-month freelance job in New York City. Nadirah and I had only been working together a few months and I was pretty distressed at the prospect of falling short on my agreement. So for the months while I was in New York we continued to meet at our normal time via Skype. Within a week or two, we were video chatting and referencing her writing on a shared Google Doc. It became seamless. Additionally, I drive Nadirah home from our mentoring session each week, a setup arranged with permission from her mom and with Mighty Writers’ approval. It gives us a chance to decompress and to hear a bit about each others’ lives, and has also given me an easy opportunity to interact with her family and meet her beloved pets. I’m not suggesting all mentors chaperone their mentees, but do recommend spending some time away from writing, just chatting and breaking down social walls.
For more information on how to become a Mighty mentor, click here.
Thank you to our friends at Al Dia for such a swell video.
School: PolicyLat at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
How long have you been a Mighty volunteer? 2.5 years
What do you do at Mighty Writers? I just finished leading a class, Edible Words, about food and writing.
What did you like to write as a kid? I liked to write in my journal.
What is your favorite thing to write now? Handwritten letters and cards to friends.
“The amazing creativity of the kids keeps me coming back.”
What makes someone a Mighty Writer? Mighty Writers keep on learning, Mighty Writers tell their stories loud and proud.
What keeps you coming back? The amazing creativity of the kids. They have unbelievable stories and wisdom to share and are great fun.
Why do writing and Philly go together? Because writing is a powerful mobilizing force. Through writing we can share all our stories. It can help us make the city we dream about.
Produced by Mighty Writers and narrated by legendary Philadelphia music producer Kenny Gamble, GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO, is a two-hour audio documentary on the history of Black radio in Philadelphia.
Schools and educational organizations interested in copies of “Going Black,” may contact email@example.com for more information.
“You can lose with the stuff we use!”