When he was young, Northwestern alumnus El Da’ Sheon Nix dreamt of becoming a professional football player and being able to give back to his community. While he never made it to the NFL, he says that doesn’t mean he can’t give back. Nix, who graduated in 2004, works at the Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. (Y.O.U.), teaching Evanston children an array of life skills.
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio, and I graduated from Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy with a major in human development and psychological services. Now I’m a youth development worker at Y.O.U. in Evanston.
Can you describe your Northwestern experience?
I earned a football scholarship, but a knee injury kept me from playing. I really enjoyed college though because I met so many smart and interesting people from diverse backgrounds. I liked the competitive environment. I’ve stayed active in the University community by working with student-athletes as a study skills monitor.
How did you deal with not being able to get on the field?
It was tough. Not a day passed that I didn’t think about playing. I did rehab every day but I still had plenty of free time. So I went to schools to talk with children about growing up and being successful in life.
What do you do at Y.O.U.?
I’m a youth development worker, so I interact with kids through several after-school programs. We provide enrichment activities, academic and mentoring assistance and counseling services. I lead a weekly boys group, a leadership council and a group called Future Focus at Nichols Middle School. Future Focus is designed to help kids visualize their lives beyond middle school or high school. They choose a job or career, and we plan out how they’ll get there. They have to ask themselves, for example, “If I want to be a police officer some day, what do I have to do to achieve that goal?” We talk about taking certain classes, getting good grades, graduating from high school, maybe going on to college and so on.
What skills have you developed?
Working with kids is challenging. You try and try, and sometimes you just can’t get through to them. You have to be patient and get on their level. At one of our boys group meetings, we had two kids who had been suspended from school for fighting. So I showed a photo of my middle school classmates and talked about where each person is today. It was a lesson about making good decisions in life, even when you’re only 12 years old. I’ve gone through the same things that a lot of these kids are going through, and I always tell them, “You don’t have to be an adult to make a bad decision.”
Do you enjoy working with children?
It just comes natural to me. I don’t even think of it as work. I’ve found that if an activity is organized and fun, the kids will learn.