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‘The Bigger Picture’: How a Lincoln High School senior is using his voice to lift up others

April 16, 2021 / By Lisa Verdin

Stephen Perez Sioux Falls Argus Leader

April 10, 2021

For 18-year-old Surafel Berhanie, the Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire has been a second home for over a decade.

When his family moved to South Dakota from Ethiopia at the age of 8, he did not know English and was struggling to find a place where he could be himself.

That changed, and now he is a part-time employee and the Sioux Empire’s 2021 Youth of the Year recipient.

“It was a foundation and a place for me to feel safe,” he said of the Boys and Girls Club. “Most kids don’t feel comfortable opening up, and me knowing how they feel makes it easier for them open up.”

The award is given to a young person, typically over the age of 16 that embodies the leadership qualities and takes on an ambassador role for the club, according to director of operations Billy Mawhiney.

”I think just in the past years if we could give an award for recruitment of other members, that would probably go to (Surafel),” Mawhiney said. “He does a great job at telling everyone what the club is and describing the feeling of safety and welcomeness.”

The Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire had four finalists apply for the Youth of the Year award this year. Each candidate had to apply for consideration, and the application included submitting your grades along with an essay and a speech.

Berhanie's award includes a scholarship of $1,000 from the Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire.

Lincoln High School student Surafel Berhanie poses for a portrait on Friday, April 9, 2021, outside the Boys and Girls Club office in Sioux Falls. Berhanie has been named the Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire.

Berhanie is a senior at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls and is set to graduate in May. Along with his part-time role with the club and school, he also plays basketball and leads a club he started called “The Bigger Picture”.

”The Bigger Picture” was an idea Berhanie had following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. He believed an outlet was needed for students to come and talk about their opinions and give a voice to those who may be voiceless.

“We try to have rational conversations,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you have to say, just come say it and feel safe. I don’t know everything and I am there to learn as well with them.”

He said he lets a different person lead the discussion every meeting so all can share their points of view. Plus, having the support of the faculty at Lincoln allowed him to further understand that these conversations were important and needed to take place.

Berhanie will compete on Monday via Zoom with other South Dakota Youth of the Year winners for the state title.

Following that, the next steps would be Midwest Region Youth of the Year that awards the winner an additional $10,000 in scholarships renewable of up to $40,000. The five regional winners will go to Washington, D.C. to compete for the national title and more opportunities for scholarship money.

If Berhanie was to make it to the national competition and win, he could be awarded an additional scholarship of $25,000, renewable each year up to $100,000.

That money can go a long way for him as he plans to continue playing basketball and pursue a degree in secondary education at Dakota College of Bottineau in North Dakota.