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VCU student wins CHS Rising Star in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award

Rebecca Alemu (Class of 2021) is a biology major with a passion for giving back to the community.
Rebecca Alemu

Alemu has an impressive record of volunteer service work, such as serving as the director of VCU’s chapter of Camp Kasem and family care center activity assistant at VCU Medical Center, working with the East End Cemetery Clean Up and Restoration Project and the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, Alzheimer’s Association, among other endeavors. Equally impressive are her academic achievements having also received the Black History in the Making award in Biology.

We met up with Rebecca to learn more about her work and what this award means to her.

What does receiving the CHS Rising Star Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award mean to you?

I feel extremely blessed and honored to be receiving one of the CHS awards alongside amazing faculty, staff, and students. This award validates all the long nights, countless meetings and behind the scenes work that I’ve done along with many of the amazing student leaders and Richmond community members that I’ve met through countless organizations. This award fuels my heart and desire to continue doing what I can to spread positivity and actively push embracing diversity and breaking barriers providing equity and inclusion at all levels. I know this is necessary to be the change that I want to see in this world and I have a lot more fire inside of me to further my visions with every role I take as a student now and in my future, as I pursue a career in medicine advocating for underrepresented and underserved communities. 

Are there any partners in your work that helped you achieve this honor?

Absolutely! First and foremost, I thank God for without his strength and glory I would not be here today as well as my extremely supportive family, friends and adviser and mentor, Gerron Scott, who has been a mentor for me the past few years at VCU and nominated me for this award. None of the work I have done was achieved alone, I have held countless roles and leadership positions in amazing organizations, and every step of the way I have been blessed to be surrounded and supported by extremely talented student leaders who we collectively as a team has ensured that diversity equity and inclusion are not just words plastered on our mission statement but truly at the forefront of everything we do. 

The organization that I am most passionate about is Camp Kesem. I’ve been a part of Camp Kesem all four years starting off as a general body member and counselor then various leadership roles to now co-director of our entire chapter at VCU. Camp Kesem is more than an organization; it's a magical feeling and place of love, support and Kesem magic. Kesem is a national nonprofit completely run by college students that supports children through and beyond a parent’s cancer through friendship, a free weeklong camp, and various support. As co-director, I lead a team of 15 dedicated coordinators who all contribute tremendously and tirelessly year-round to ensure we provide our kids with the most inclusive and equitable services and support, without whom I wouldn’t be receiving this award. 

"This past spring and summer with the recent tragic events that have unveiled deep-rooted racism and injustice in our nations I am further motivated to do my part, now more than ever."

We constantly reevaluate, learn, and anticipate the needs of our campers and camper families. For example, this past summer with the worldwide pandemic taking place, we transitioned to an online virtual platform for our week-long summer camp. With this change, we anticipated the difficulty and challenges this would pose to camper families who may not have access to technology, multiple devices for different children, stable Wi-Fi and time for parental supervision of children.

In order to provide an inclusive environment of camp, we worked to plan camp with an array of activities that were online and offline, mailing out crafts and supplies needed for any and all activities and providing accommodations for any family. We worked to contact every family and inquire about their technology and were able to direct families to resources for such supplies. We participated in many training sessions on how to conduct programming through online platforms and how to ensure we were instilling a safe environment with our core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Further, this emphasizes again how the work I’ve been a part of could not have been accomplished without the hard work of all our counselors, coordinators, camp advisers, nurses, mental health professionals, donors and community contacts who support our chapter.

I have also had the opportunity to engage in the Richmond community through mentoring Carver Elementary students through the Carver Promise and mentoring VCU freshmen in the VCU Acceleration program under VCU Division of Health Sciences Diversity. In these roles, I am able to support students in their personal growth in continued educational goals and development. I’ve also served as the community service chair for Delta Epsilon Mu where I had the pleasure of organizing community service events in the Richmond community serving unserved communities collaborating with organizations such as Autism Society, RVA Pride, East End Cemetery Cleanup Project and our amazing Philanthropy Health Brigade, Richmond’s oldest free health clinic.

What excites and motivates you in your work?

What motivates me the most is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces of those we serve through Camp Kesem. When I see that excitement on their faces as we aim to give them back even a sliver of their childhood that cancer that deprived them of it makes it all worth it and reminds me of the importance of what I am doing. But it doesn’t stop there, what also motivates me is knowing that there are thousands of children in the nation and in our backyard of communities in Richmond who haven’t heard about the services we can provide for their children, which is a goal of our chapter this year.

This past spring and summer with the recent tragic events that have unveiled deep-rooted racism and injustice in our nations I am further motivated to do my part, now more than ever. It’s so beautiful to see how people of all walks of life can come together and make their voices heard, but there's still a lot of work left to do. Diversity, equity and inclusion are achieved through action and compassion, and care and is a commitment that I make every day and hold myself accountable towards.

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