Trekking Up the Mountain

Setting Sights on New Horizons

Khalifa joined the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council in 2007. But her involvement began much earlier when she was inspired by a video shown in a school classroom of Dr. Jane Goodall doing research in Tanzania. “I think it was the third grade,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be like her.’”

Much of Khalifa’s commitment and perseverance was motivated by what she OBSERVED growing up “without having much” in an inner-city neighborhood of Boston. She wanted a better life, to do more for herself and for the kids who would come up after her.

That drive led her to participate in Roots & Shoots and several other youth programs, which “opened my eyes to what’s on the other side of poverty,” she says. One program took her to California, where she went hiking for the first time. “I remember on the hiking trip making it up to the top of the mountain—something I didn’t think I would be able to do because I’d never done it before—and to me that’s kind of metaphorically the other side, making it to the top,” she says.

That experience “planted the seed within me to keep trekking up this mountain,” she says: “be resilient, don’t give up.”

The mountain top, for me at least, is making positive impact in my community, knowing that I helped to change not only my life but other people’s lives.

KHALIFA STAFFORD Roots & Shoots Alumna
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Resilient and persistent, Khalifa followed in Jane’s footsteps. As a member of the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council in high school, she was involved in many service projects, TAKING ACTION to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment. She traveled to national youth summits, to gatherings with other students from around the world, and to Tanzania, where she met youth leaders there, observed Roots & Shoots programs in schools, and saw Jane’s work in Gombe.

The trip to Tanzania, in particular, had a profound impact on her life: “It was almost like I was going home to a place where I’ve never been,” she says. There, she met people who “had such pure hearts”— loving not only to their neighbors but also to animals and the environment. To this day, she says, she aims “to be as pure and loving as they were.”

Her Roots & Shoots experiences “shaped the kind of person I am today,” she says—sometimes in unexpected ways. Recently, for example, her experience in Tanzania helped her make a connection with the owner of an East African restaurant in Harlem. When Khalifa translated a menu item for her young son, the woman asked, “How do you know this?” By the time the meal was over, Khalifa’s son was playing with the owner’s children, and new friendships were being CELEBRATED.

Everyone can make a difference.

If Khalifa's activism inspires you, find out how you can design your own projects in your community!

Reflecting on the many Roots & Shoots projects she was involved in, Khalifa says a favorite was called Peace Through Art. During the Iraq War, she and her peers made and collected art from students in the United States and sent them to Iraqis. The project tapped into both her passion for expression through art and her commitment to helping others. “Art is very special,” she says, “in that art is kind of a universal language. You don’t have to really speak the same language as someone to get a message across.”

In 2017, Khalifa graduated from college with a degree in neuroscience. Today, she is at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York pursuing her masters and working toward a combined Ph.D. and MD to become a physician-scientist.

She hopes to be an inspiration to women, to people of color, and to others who “have that little seed”—who want to ask questions, seek answers, have an impact on their communities. “So people pull you up, right, but the idea is that you should pull someone up too,” she says.

“The mountain top, for me at least,” she says, “is making a positive impact in my community, knowing that I helped change not only my life but other people’s lives.” She hopes that her story will motivate others. Ultimately, she says, “I want to do the same for others that Jane has done for me. That’s the long-term goal.”

Are you looking for opportunities to become a youth leader like Khalifa? Learn about the Roots & Shoots Youth Leadership Council and find out how you can get involved.
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