MIAMI (CBSMiami) — You might think 17-years old is a bit young to be so legendary, that you’re known in schools across the country by just your first name, but that’s exactly the case for a young South Florida teen named Zelda.
While she is a member of the National Honor Society and class Vice-President, her success goes way beyond that.
Growing up with barely enough to buy pens and paper for school, she’s shaking up how students perceive themselves and rocking our world enough to be a selected as a CBS4 News “Super Kid.”
“You are never too young to be a mentor. Everything you get, you have to give back to the community,” explained Gricelda Ramos to CBS4’s Michele Gillen when the two met on the first day of her senior year at Mast Academy on Key Biscayne.
“I am so ready to be back at school,” she joyfully told Gillen.
At 17-years-old Gricelda, is considered a mentor extraordinaire, a modern day pied piper for kids, who she tutors and inspires for hours each and every day. They call her Zelda. That’s the name of a videogame princess but Zelda is writing her own legacy as a real life warrior.
“When people see me I want them to see me not as a princess but as a warrior, and somebody who is going to make a difference,” said Zelda. “When I hear people say ‘Zelda,’ I want them to feel that I am fighting for everything, for my future, for my academics, for happiness, for everything. That’s what I feel when people say ‘Zelda’.”
She explained she finds joy in being a warrior because “At the end of the day you have fought for what you believe in and others not only admire you, and it’s not about admiration, but you inspire others. It’s like a constant domino effect,” shared the 17-year-old.
Zelda was born, raised and lives in Little Havana. She travels each day to Mast Academy where she scores top grades. This year, she got noticed by teachers across the country because she wrote a treatise on not being defined by your zip code.
“Where I grew up, people center on drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and they infiltrate to kids’ minds that this is where you are going, this all that you are ever going to achieve. And I am showing that it is not,” she passionately shared.
Raised by a single parent, her mom cleans homes for a living, scrubbing floors to polish a vision of the American Dream for her daughter.
“School to me, it means the world to me. I love school,” she is proud to admit.
But it is Zelda’s compassion that stands her apart.
At 15, she and her good friend Camilia, also a Mast Academy student, created the non-profit campaign Temporary Pain/Enduring Beauty to raise funds for girls across the globe who’ve been bullied, abused, and disfigured in horrors like acid attacks. In particular shining light on the organization Acid Survivors Trust.
“Their lives have not ended because of how they look,” she explained to Gillen.
The project grew from her own pain and tears; as an adolescent she was chided for not being pretty enough.
“I was taunted for looks and appearances. At times I can resonate with these girls because I know what it felt like at one point to feel just worthless. God, myself, people have restored the feelings of beauty, outer beauty, inner beauty, inside of me. I want those girls to feel the same. Because at one point I felt alone but I realized you are never alone,” she explained. “Beauty is not everything. But as a young girl I understand how it feels like. When I hear stories of the young girls who say they want to die, I want to bring them back hope in any way that I can. That’s my message to them. You are not alone. Ever.”
She said her heart burns for those girls who have paid such a price for wanting to learn and study, which is something she values so much.
“Some girls are disfigured because they wanted to get an education, this is me saying they might have burned your face, but they have not burned your passion your determination, your fire.”
For such a young girl, Zelda often speaks lyrically on issues of the heart. She reflected on the moment she decided she would not waste any more time on her own tears.
“Sometimes you let it consume you and sometimes it becomes you. One day I decided I am not wearing this sadness anymore. It took it off,” she proudly explained. “I look in a mirror and I see a future now.”
She’s helping others have a chance at one as well.
For $3.00 donations, she and her team take photo portraits and post them on their Facebook page with an inspiring message.
“The picture is more like a memorandum. Hey you made a difference. You helped someone’s life,” said Zelda.
Those photos were hard to take at one point because Zelda and her team didn’t have their own camera. They always had to borrow one.
When the CBS4 Super Kid Team found out, they went into action and helped give her reason to smile.
The first chapter of the surprise was unveiled at the place that is her home away from home, The Leadership Learning Center in Little Havana. It’s where she tutors other children and where she first met mentors who helped her with education, scholarships and more.
Board member and philanthropist Norma Jean Abraham turned out to personally deliver a top of the line digital/video camera package for Zelda and her team.
“We are really proud of you and I got you something that I think might help you out,” a glowing Abraham announced, “Yes, your own camera!”
Zelda’s glee was infectious as she was surrounded by dozens of applauding children.
Zelda cradled the brand-new camera and fought back tears of happiness, “For every kid with a dream this is for you!”
Her next stop will be a private photography lesson with internationally renowned Italian artist Luca Arioli who is famous for his portraits of hope he captures in the most impoverished areas of the world.
“This is what you have to capture, the smiles,” Luca explained as he walked Zelda through one of his award winning photo books. In poverty stricken villages in India, his pictures hauntingly captured smiles that bloom like flowers within barren desserts.” Zip codes don’t matter.
Zelda tenderly touched each page as Luca gave her tips on how to photograph. The lesson was a perfect fit.
“I’m honored to meet her. You have the strength, all the tools and you have this now and this will be an opportunity to capture amazing projects,” said Luca.
So add a new mentor in Zelda’s corner, Luca’s heart touched by a Super Kid who found true beauty and whose fingerprint on life has already touched so many others.
“I decided that I would try to be an inspiration to everybody. To kids, to adults, just inspire people because I knew that I never going back to that place again.” But the first person she had to inspire, “was myself,” she added.