Three Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) students have been named AT&T Dream in Black Rising Future Makers.

Freshman Cyrai Young, sophomore Justin Lamar Young, and Masters candidate Jocelynn Johnson are among the 25 students chosen from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are making impacts in their communities and on their campuses.

Each winner receives $5,000, a 5G-enabled mobile phone, professional workshop opportunities, mentorship sessions to help them grow their network and further their career opportunities.

The Rising Future Makers is a program that spotlights trailblazers at HBCUs from across the country, while creating a pathway for Black students to achieve career and personal success.

The Defender had the pleasure of speaking with all three honorees. Let’s get to learn more about the city’s Black Future Makers.

Defender: How did you come across this opportunity with AT&T?

Collins: I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I’ve personally been doing a lot of non-profit work with AT&T since 2018. We’ve been doing community engagement events; panel talks and things like that. So, when the opportunity came up, I was back home for a Juneteenth event. I was talking to a mentor who was also a Future Maker who suggested that I should apply, submit a video, and explain the work I do in the community. And it took off from there.

Johnson: Honestly, it fell on my lap. I was scrolling through Instagram one day and I knew I always wanted to go to an HBCU. Prairie View was always on my radar. I have an older sister that went there. I saw the opportunity online and I thought to myself about the things that I achieved in my life and thought that I should take the chance and see what happens.

Young: I’m part of the honors program and one of the directors sent out the opportunity encouraging us to apply. I decided to apply and hope for the best.

Defender: What are some things that you’ve done in the Houston community?

Collins: I serve as residents assistant for the freshman boys at Prairie View. I do a lot of nonprofit work with my brand which is called LANES (Living Above Normal Everyday Standards) So, I’ve done events on campus where I’ve guided kids about how to fill out information to start their LLC, to start their own businesses. I also volunteer to teach music courses. I also create a safe space for kids to talk about their struggles.

Johnson: A few years back I started a YouTube channel talking about my experiences through college. I would invite different leaders in the community and conduct interviews, give life advice to incoming college students. In 2020, I ended up getting pregnant and the focus of my channel changed. So, I made it to be a docu-series to reach a new audience of young mothers and young people who have different life paths. Now, I started my first small business and I’m excited for what the future holds.

Young: I’ve volunteered at the Houston Food Bank. Another thing I did was create crochet beanie babies for a pregnancy center not too far from campus. We packaged them and gave them to the center as a thank you for having people who weren’t able to actually go to major hospitals.

Defender: What goals do you want to accomplish on campus?

Collins: I want to start doing more mental health groups and give more people the outlets to express themselves. I’m a vegetarian, so I want to partner with health services to get more healthier options in the student dining halls. I have so many goals that I want to implement.

Johnson: I would love to get more active on campus. This is my first semester I’ve been in my graduate program. I work full-time at Baylor University, so I’ve been back and forth. I want to get more into the Greek life there. One of my passions is being a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. I think the Greek community is a great way to enhance leadership on campus and to get involved within the community on and off campus.

Young: I hope to keep pushing the importance of learning our Black history on campus. I run an art page and an activism page on social media to spread awareness about different topics and issues impacting the Black community.

Defender: What are your future career aspirations?

Collins: My award funds will go toward tuition and that’s because I’m an out-of-state student, so tuition is higher. It will keep me in school and keep me doing the things I enjoy here on campus. If I have funds left over, I would like to use the money to produce more events with my freshman (boys), going to a museum or something. Just to help make their transition into college life easier.

Johnson: I want to be a business owner. I have a small business so I want to turn it into a big business. It’s called Stationery Je, an E-Commerce store that creates motivational planners to help college students stay on track with their goals. It’s named after my son Jeremiah. I took two passions of mine and turned it into the biggest lights of my life. My biggest long-term goal is to have my own TV talk show. I would love to be the next generation’s Oprah.

Young: I want to be a forensic pathologist since there is under 10% of Black forensic pathologist in the nation. I want to be able to be in a career that will help our community. I would like to be the one that brings closure to families who lose loved ones. They do autopsies on bodies to find the cause of death and the manner of death and how long they’ve been dead. I hope I could one work day for the FBI.

Defender: Any advice you’d want to give to young future makers?

Collins: When the road gets too crowded, create your own lane. Don’t try to do what others are doing. Tap into your uniqueness. That will set you apart.

Johnson: Always bet on yourself. Never say no to opportunities. If people can allow themselves to step out of the box, the better successful outcomes. You never know if you don’t put yourself out there.

Young: Don’t let obstacles affect you in the long run. I’ve overcome a lot of challenges in my past and I turn them into positives. My high school was a predominately white and Indian community. I was one out of probably 50 Black students in my class. It was hard to find people to connect with. I faced some racial discrimination in high school. I was called monkey and I was made fun of due to my natural hair. I lasted four years. I learned to let it roll off my shoulders. I’m now at an HBCU where I feel at home.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...