Meet Tyra, Our 2021 Youth of the Year

2021-22 Youth of the Year Tyra Jenkins

Tyra Jenkins, a senior at Bancroft School, has been a member of the Boys & Girls Club for 10 years. Tyra is captain of our Club’s In Da Zone dance team and president of the Keystone leadership group. In addition, she has participated in Job Ready, Drivers Ed, SAT prep classes and volunteers at the Club about 15 hours a month.  Tyra plans on attending college in the fall with a focus in Biology or Psychology, as science has been an interest to her since the age of 10.

 “The Boys & Girls Club has helped me discover the powerful woman, and leader, within me. With those skills I wish to be a voice for the voiceless, and show others that we can break the box society traps us in.” – Tyra Jenkins

Overcoming Obstacles

When I first got to Bancroft, I was so unsure of myself. I tried to be like the Caucasian girls in every aspect: straightening my hair everyday, wearing the same clothes, even mimicking how they talk. “It's a human instinct to adapt to our surroundings” is what I would tell myself. But the truth is, it was more than that. I was shape-shifting into someone I had no recollection of. Someone so unfamiliar to me. Someone so distinctly different than who I really am. I let go of embracing how Black I was for acceptance into a group of people who will potentially have more advantages, opportunities, and less oppression than I would. I never accepted the fact that I was MADE to be different and stand out amongst my Caucasian peers.

To be completely honest, I have had this deeply rooted hatred for my skin color since elementary school. I used to get picked on and called weird, yet very clever, names that were actually just backhanded “compliments.” So that feeling of never fitting in was always in the back of my mind; and I had my mind set on never feeling that way ever again. Once I reached high school my priorities seemed to change. I started to put my friends over my family, and outside activities before school. Oddly enough, this mentality really took a turn for the better. After being backstabbed, manipulated, and thrown under the bus, I finally realized something so important that I needed a whole year full of drama to understand: the only people that will ever have my back is my family and my second family. My mom, dad, and even my little brothers were there for me throughout my darkest stages as well as nonstop support from the club. More specifically, In Da Zone. My coach as well as my teammates provided the representation, I needed in order to feel like I belonged somewhere. And they provided me with aid in the process of recognizing my full potential on and off the stage. So, I can’t thank them enough for helping me in the journey of finding myself.

Although I have found my light, sometimes it can become dim.  In addition to being somewhat self-conscious of my skin tone, since the age of eight years old, I have struggled with anxiety. It gets so bad to the point where it feels like my body is being smothered by the weight of the constant pressure I feel as a teenager in this generation. In spite of learning various ways to cope with my anxiety, my favorite way to escape that never-ending nightmare is to lay with my mom. No talking, just laying. With my face pressed against her chest, I can feel our heartbeats match rhythms while our breathing becomes synchronous, and all of a sudden facing the pressures of the world doesn't seem too bad. Though I can feel somewhat suffocated by the 1,000 minute lectures on self-respect or why colored clothes and white clothes should be separated, I always take the time to appreciate them. Those ridiculously long conversations have molded me into the confident and sharp young Black woman that I am today and taught me how to do laundry “the right way,” of course. But overall she demonstrated what a real role model should look like. I will not become another stereotype, but instead, break the barriers that society constantly builds upon Black women.

Four years ago I was an imposter. I wasn’t the Tyra that I know and absolutely adore now. Today, I have finally accepted the fact that I am not defined by my skin color nor my anxiety and I have definitely broken out of my shell. From the way I dress to the way I do my hair, I am proud to be who I am. I didn't grow up with dark skin female representation through social media nor through TV shows, so I had to learn my physical beauty through my own example. The journey may have started off rough, but now no one can make me feel like I’m worthless. I am self-confident and have found ways to channel my anxiety. Truthfully, I still don't even really know who I am, but what I do know is that no matter how many people tried to keep me in the dark, my nappy headed, ebony-skinned, light will shine forever.