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Naval Academy Midshipman Pays It Forward

Posted on: May 08, 2013 08:00 EDT by Jessica Clark

With more than 20,000 hours of community service logged this academic year, the midshipmen of the Naval Academy’s Midshipman Action Group know a thing or two about what it means to give to others.

For one midshipman, serving the community - and especially mentoring children at the local Boys and Girls Club - holds an even deeper meaning.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Midshipman 3rd Class Abdussalaam Kako sought political asylum in the U.S. in the late 1990s with his mother, brother and sister. He grew up in a single-parent home in Memphis, Tenn., and described himself as a “misguided child” until his middle school principal took him under his wing.

When he asked his mentor what he could do to repay him, the principal encouraged him to take the opportunity to help others. Working with the Boys and Girls Club gave him that chance.

Midshipman 3rd Class Abdussalaam Kako

Most of the children the midshipmen mentor come from single-parent homes with mothers who have to work long hours away from home to support the family. Much of what they learn comes from negative sources such as violence on television, said Kako.

“The reason I can relate to them is that I grew up with the same problems they have,” he said.

“For someone to come in and help them and guide them in the right direction - that’s what somebody did for me, and it put me where I am today,” he said. “Had that not happened, I would have been another statistic, and that’s something I don’t want to happen to these kids.”

Kako said the effect the midshipmen’s visits have on the children is visible.

“When the midshipmen come in, the kids get really excited. They run towards us actually, and their faces glow,” he said. “To see the kids have something to look forward to, knowing that person is their friend and is there for them - I know what it means to have that one person who you know believes in you and who you can count on for anything.”

Kako said his favorite activity with the kids is getting their schoolwork done.

“It’s not necessarily their favorite, but one thing I learned through my mentor is the importance of education,” he said.  

Slowly, the kids he’s worked with are starting to understand that, too.

When the mids first started the program, Kako talked to one young man about what colleges he’s interested in, and he responded that people like him don’t go to college.

“He’d already accepted that he was a statistic, that he can’t succeed, because that’s what society has told him,” said Kako.

Months later, the same young man had a list of schools he was interested in. Kako said that knowing there are people who believe in him has helped him believe in himself.

“Now he holds himself to a different standard,” he said.

Having sought political asylum in the U.S., Kako said he has always felt a debt to his adopted country. This is what led him to choose the Naval Academy and military service.

“It’s all about giving back,” he said.

 He still has two years before graduation but hopes to serve as a Marine Corps infantry officer.

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