The Constitution requires that a person reach their 25th birthday before serving as a member of Congress. Although it is highly unusual for a person to achieve this level of political success at such a young age, 19-year-old Ar-Rian Alomar-McFadden is accustomed to defying the odds and is well on her way to a seat in the U.S. Congress. As a sophomore International Business major at Albright College, the Afro-Latina go-getter diligently works to chart the course for her future. The honor student and advocate spends most of her time completing school work, engaged in her campus community or studying the Bible.
But that’s not where her story began.
Ar-Rian describes her former self as verbally outrageous and a fighter. A square peg in a round hole, she admits that as a child she resisted social conditioning and marched to the beat of her own drum. “I wanted to know why we had to act, speak, and learn in such ways. I always questioned authority and never accepted it for what it was because I simply did not believe in their robotic system. I was always very hyper and energetic as a child, and that energy was almost never received very well.” According to Ar-Rian, a lack of understanding by teachers and school administrators led to feelings of disappointment, isolation and behavioral issues. It wasn’t long before she was labeled a problem student and eventually, a bully.
But something from within affirmed that this was not her destiny.
Ar-Rian began middle school carrying the weight of negative labels and past disappointments. While she acknowledges that her rebellious behavior was not the best choice, she struggled with “wanting to change things for the better, but not knowing how to do so.” Of her own volition, she sought out counseling, and it transformed her life. For the first time, she felt that she was able to speak out in an effective manner and that someone within the educational system was listening. “Up until that point, I never knew how powerful emotions were and how they operated. I was not in touch with my emotions and after experiencing counseling, I came to understand more about how we affect others through our own actions. My counselor was the very first person I met outside of the Afro-Latino community that I felt, truly desired to understand and help me with my issues.”
In time, teachers began to see a noticeable shift in Ar-Rian’s attitude and behaviors; this fueled her fire for improvement. “Certain teachers began to see me for who I truly was, and always set-out to be. The bully was turning into a beauty.” Ar-Rian started high school with a renewed sense of purpose. “I was unstoppable, ambitious, and serious about my future finally.” While Ar-Rian was mentally ready for a new beginning in high school, the outward expression of this change had yet to manifest entirely. Though academically gifted, Ar-Rian continued to skip classes and eventually ended up in a physical altercation when provoked by a peer.
Nevertheless, Ar-Rian refused to give up.
Her grandmother Barbara “Dobs” Enty is where she found inspiration.
“When I was born she said I’m going to be the second mom – mom mom. She is genuine. She treats everyone with universal respect. I see Jesus in her. When I look at her, I know that she is real. That’s the best word to describe her. She is real because of her actions. She speaks about real things — life changing things. Not only does she speak about them she lives them. She represents the saying you reap what you sow.”
It was also during this time that she met, her first and only Black female teacher, Mrs. Meadows. “Mrs. Meadows saw potential in me and encouraged me to join the program [Advantage Lancaster].” For Ar-Rian, Advantage Lancaster became a safe space where she was challenged, supported and encouraged to be her best self. The physical manifestation of her new identity began to blossom, and things began to fall into place. She started completing her homework assignments, stopped skipping class and excelled academically.
“I knew that I had to change if I wanted better for myself. It was great to have a network of people at school who cared. I never felt like I had that.” She described Shayne and Jennifer Meadows as nurturing parents and Ty Bair as the crazy but caring big brother, uncle, cousin. Her complimentary view of program staff expanding to include Sarourn “ride or die” Sen, Jeremy “lifestyle choices” Nesmith, and Willie “helpful uncle” Thedford. The Advantage Lancaster team became more than a group of caring teachers; they became her family.
It was Advantage Lancaster that exposed Ar-Rian to the college classroom and ignited her fire to transition from honors classes into the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. “I had the wonderful opportunity of working side-by-side with a college English professor, mentoring younger students, traveling, completing community service work…” She also credits Advantage Lancaster with giving her exposure to cultural experiences beyond the local community.
Though they are packaged differently the beauty of Advantage Lancaster and the IB program is that students are taught to think beyond their boundaries. Ar-Rian and her classmate, also a member of Advantage Lancaster, became accountability partners who motivated each other through their journey.
Maintaining an appropriate balance between academic success and social change became a priority for the budding scholar. She was selected to be a part of the peer mentor program where she diligently worked to fulfill the program’s goal of building character by helping others find peaceful outcomes during times of conflict. While her skill for navigating peer conflict for herself and others increased significantly, so did her frustration with broader issues such as microaggression from some school administrators.
Her passion, reminiscent of political trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, Ar-Rian Alomar-McFadden asserts her interests in Congress started in an IB History class. “One day we were discussing that it’s Congress, not the President who creates and passes bills. The Congress men and women are the ones with the real power.” Her experiences support that she passionately advocates for social justice, even when it is tough. Ar-Rian organized a student advocacy group #RiseUpMcCaskey to address concerns about the campus climate. However, according to Ar-Rian, the student group received resistance and was adamantly discouraged by some school administrators.
It has been more than a decade since the misunderstood little girl was labeled a bully and a problem student; more than a decade since her cry for direction was written off as disruptive. Yet, that this same little girl is now a member of the National Honor Society, obtained her IB Certificate, and received the highest grade among her peers for her research on The Impact of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
That same little girl is now a well-adjusted college sophomore who is a member of the College’s World Affairs Club and is a fellow for NextGen America. Led by the example of her “mom-mom,” Arian Alomar-McFadden is sowing and reaping.
It is clear that she possesses the kind of sapience that comes from self-awareness and a strong sense of purpose. It’s clear that this young woman who once negatively defined herself as verbally outrageous and a fighter has transformed her passion for verbal exchange and her tenacious spirit into gifts paving the path to her future.
And, with her immersible work ethic and dogged pursuit of excellence, it shouldn’t be a surprise if, in 2024, there is a verbally expressive no-nonsense Afro-Latina go-getter seated in Congress.