Chris Hilliard

The world feels a lot smaller to me now. When I worked as a security guard, I used to get off work at night and walk by bars filled with people, people who I had never encountered. I used to wonder about those people—it seemed like a whole different culture. Today, I think anything is possible. I can shake hands with a CEO today and hang out with my friends as well. That status is achievable.

Before starting Year Up, I worked at McDonalds and Bloomingdales, and other odd jobs. I almost felt like a slave—I was talented and the world would never know. I came to Year Up wanting to be the best. That was harder than I thought it would be. The level of talent at Year Up is so high, that you’re not always going to be recognized when you want to be recognized. When I didn’t get my top choice internship, or the “Intern of the Week” award, it hurt, and it was humbling. Being at Year Up made me respect others a lot more, and also made me respect my community. Just because we come from a low-income demographic doesn’t mean we’re not talented.

At Year Up, I learned to always see the bigger picture. Why is there such a big gap between the haves and the have-nots? Why is there such a blatant opportunity divide? There are barriers that keep people like me from accessing the opportunities that allow us to thrive. I represent what happens when you give that person an opportunity.

I was the first intern at Weber Shandwick without a college degree. I came to this world not really knowing what public relations was about, but I knew my skillset. After graduating from Year Up, I was hired as an analyst. Within that same year, I was promoted to Assistant Account Executive. This is the first corporate job I’ve had, and it allows me to use my mind and critical thinking skills. I work with brands, using social listening tools to track conversations online, find insights, and tap into influencers who can help brands succeed. It’s really cool to see something on TV or the front page of the magazine and know that my work contributed to it. I’ve always been good at math, a writer, and an artist, but now I have the specific hard skills that companies are looking for.

Milestone after milestone, I accomplished a lot during Year Up. I felt like I was part of a movement from day 1. We now have another Year Up intern at Weber Shandwick. That’s one of my proudest moments, knowing that my success at Weber Shandwick played a part in someone else’s dreams coming true.

Hear more from Chris and other Year Up alumni in the WorkingNation video (featured video above).