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War broke out the day before Zoryana Poladko-Alleyne’s seventh
birthday. She’s pictured in the center with siblings Nazar, age 4 (left)
and Taras (age 3).
War broke out on the eve of his daughter’s birthday.
On the morning of Feb. 24, 2022, Atnre Alleyne awoke in Ukraine to
the floor vibrating beneath his feet, bombs exploding in the distance.
His children, ages 2, 3 and just one day shy of 7, slept as he and his
wife peered out the window to see their neighbors drive off.
Without a car, and with an 81-year-old
father-in-law, the family remained in their Kyiv suburb. The following
morning, they placed seven candles on their daughter’s cake.
“It’s indescribable,” the UD alumnus said now, speaking from Poland.
“Do you stay? Put your kids to bed that night? At what point do you
leave? How close do the bombs have to be?”
Relief would come the next day, when a fellow parent fleeing the
region offered the family of six a ride in her Volkswagen Passat.
That evening, from the western Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr, Alleyne
opened his laptop, war horrors beside him, Zoom screen before him. On
the other side of the world, American students watched in stunned
silence as their mentor began to speak.
“All of this is connected,” Alleyne said from a hotel bathroom. “Conflict ripples.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Even war hasn’t stopped TeenSHARP founders Atnre Alleyne and
Tatiana Poladko from their educational mission. Through their program,
the couple has placed hundreds of underrepresented minority students
into the nation’s most competitive and elite universities.
Speaking about Black History Month on that fateful February night,
he quoted the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Whether it’s Putin or racial injustice, you need a fierce urgency of
now,” Alleyne told his TeenSHARP students. “You need courage. There
needs to be a fire that keeps burning. There will always be a level of
distraction, but what really matters, and how do you stay connected to
Perhaps by living through Alleyne and Poladko’s example. With every reason to pause their TeenSHARP programs and workshops, the couple continued. When racist videos circulated on social media, they pushed back.
As a Black American, Alleyne does not shy away from the truth. “Black people were mistreated in Ukraine,” he said. “My barber in Warsaw had a harrowing experience.” But when he heard the ensuing criticisms from fellow people of color—“Why should we care about Ukraine? Look how they’re treating us,”—Alleyne offered his own warnings.
“I said, ‘Some of this is true, but be careful. Americans are not used to cyberwarfare.’ Putin was creating and fomenting dissension. We believe it can’t happen here in America, and that’s what makes us so vulnerable.”
And yet, disbelief is a somewhat natural response, he added.
“It’s hard to think like a depraved dictator. You continue to think like a rational being,” Alleyne said. “Imagine living in Newark and there’s a war. You think, ‘Who’s coming here? This isn’t a strategic target.’ But neither was Bucha [the site of a Russian-led massacre that left 458 dead and a city 18 miles away from Alleyne’s home]. I don’t care what kind of political science training you’ve had, it’s hard to theorize. That’s why I think America struggles with Putin. We can’t theorize someone not playing by the rules; going to Bucha, killing civilians, women, children.”
In Warsaw earlier this week, Alleyne waited for hours to hear
fellow alumnus and U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirm his support for
Now, one year since war began, Alleyne holds onto hope that the end may be in sight. “I’m a person of faith,” he said.
Faith is what drives his philanthropy and desire to give back — a
calling he first learned from his mother. As a child, Alleyne watched
her commute two hours to a New York City law firm, where she worked her
way from secretary to HR director, all without a college degree.
Proudly Afro-centric, she gave her youngest son an ancient Egyptian
name (Atnre, pronounced ah-tin-ray, “the revealed spirit of the water”)
and sent the young American to a boarding high school in Ghana — his
second trip on an airplane and first to Africa.
“She wanted us to see our own brilliance and excellence and not feel
like our intellect had to be validated by someone else,” Alleyne said.
It’s a mission he and Poladko continue with TeenSHARP, a community
dedicated to uplifting marginalized, minoritized populations through
educational and economic mobility. Ensuring students graduate debt-free
(or with as little debt as possible) is one of the program’s key goals.
Atnre Alleyne thanks Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons for his work on behalf of Ukraine with a gift made by a Ukrainian refugee.
In the meantime, Alleyne keeps working, expanding TeenSHARP’s reach
through additional programs and opportunities, such as The Proximity
Project, an eight-week training program for meaningful diversity, equity
and inclusion, and the Ukraine Grassroots Leader Fund, which raises
money for smaller, on-the-ground war efforts.
“I feel like we have a capacity to do both/and,” he said of his
cross-continental, service-driven work. “You can care about humanity —
all of it — when you put good into the world. Everything connects.”
Article by Artika Casini, photos courtesy of Atnre Alleyne
February 23, 2023