Teen Getting a ‘New Look’ or Changing Detroit for the Better

Atif Hashwi is everything this region needs: Ridiculously smart. Positively generous. Driven to succeed. And he is leaving Detroit.

OK…That was a mean trick to keep you reading. Just to clarify: Atif will be leaving Detroit just for the weekend. But he’s going so he can make the rest of us look good. And, trust me, in just a few conversations with and about this young man, I can say he is about the best representative this region can have.

The 16-year-old Atif will be in Atlanta next weekend as a featured guest speaker at the Usher’s New Look World Leadership Conference. The think-tank conference will host 500 youth from around the world – including several from Metro Detroit. Its goal is to provide a “real-world platform to sharpen their leadership skills while they work with peers to develop global solutions to local problems.”

Atif has been personally selected as a prominent youth speaker for the annual conference by Grammy award winning recording artist, Usher. Yes, that Usher – the one that used to date Chili and sings the catchy songs teens download on their fancy iPhones.

Some serious background: Usher’s New Look Foundation was founded by superstar Usher Raymond IV in 1999 to educate, empower and encourage youth from impoverished areas and underprivileged homes to stand up as global and community leaders. New Look provides leadership training and real life-skill experiences through a variety of programs that provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed. As a result, 98 percent of New Look alumni graduate from high school and move on to college. That’s a statistic everyone in Detroit would be glad to adopt.

Usher selected Atif for a reason. The recent high-school graduate (Detroit Country Day – yowza! on a nice scholarship) has raised money for the Nothing But Nets campaign to send bed nets to Africa to prevent the spread of Malaria. When the earthquake shattered Haiti, the Detroit-born Atif raised funds through his school and neighborhood. So far, the Dearborn resident has raised more than $1,000 and 600 cans to send to Haiti. He has also traveled to Lebanon, volunteering in several hospitals for the poor.

Why does this academically gifted young man do this good-deeding? It’s in part because of his great family and strong community. But it also is because of Usher’s personal philosophy, Atif said. The motto of the camps and other activities Usher supports is to use your talent to create change – in your own community. And Atif likes it here. He really, really does.

“It’s more than community service,” Atif told me. “You have hands-on work with the community. You use your creativity to implement the change you want in your community.”

In fact, this budding stage and screen star is attending the University of Michigan this fall to study both acting and medicine. (Talk about using both sides of your brain.) And when he finished that, he plans on sticking around Detroit. Maybe he’ll make a few films. Maybe he’ll save a few lives. Either way, he’s a welcome addition to any city he chooses. And I’m glad he chooses Detroit.

“This is a city that needs the most help. Therefore we need to have more ideas and there’s more we can do in our city. Service never stops – you have to keep serving,” Atif said. “Every increment of time will make the city better.”

Part of what Atif will do at the conference is present a short film he and two other local students created. Its focus is bullying and the problems it creates in schools and cities. The film shows the perspective of the bully – what happens to this young girl in her own house that results in her negative behavior.

Truly, this kid has some chops. He is doing four leads in four shorts films this summer, and he had a feature role in the independent film “Mooz-lum,” which starred Danny Glover.

Part of the reason Atif has such a strong commitment to the New Look program is he believes Detroit and the surrounding region will benefit from what he is learning there.

“Detroit is open for business. We have creative minds here – people are working together, and there is power in numbers, power in youth,” Atif said. “When they find that power, they run with it.”

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