Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER — Coming from a predominantly white town, as a Black woman Tyra Jenkins was shy and was unsure about herself.
When Jenkins first got to Bancroft School, she always tried to adapt to the surroundings, tried to be like the white girls in every aspect, such as straightening her hair every day, 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," said Jenkins, a graduate of Bancroft. "I was shape-shifting into someone I had no recollection of. Someone so unfamiliar to me."
But now, Jenkins has been named Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club, selected by the community members who serve as volunteer judges, based on her confidence and outstanding achievement in academics, community service, being a good citizen and a mentor.
Jenkins was selected out of five finalists.
“She didn’t just speak about herself. She spoke about her wish to be helping others, to amplify other youth voices, (the) importance of advocacy and how it takes everyone to make a community strong,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester. "Tyra is a very kind person. She’s very compassionate. She reaches out to kids who may (not) feel like they belong."
Commitment to kindness
This year, Jenkins has been awarded a $5,000 Judgement Free Generation scholarship by Planet Fitness for her commitment to kindness. She was one of 30 awardees selected nationwide for the award.
Within the club, Jenkins turned from a follower to a leader of many, like the captain of the club's In Da Zone dance team and president of the Keystone leadership group.
Jenkins has been a member of the Boys & Girls Club since she was 8, where she thought initially that it was somewhere that she would fit a little bit more into, and now 10 years later, she was accepted to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, with a major in psychology and a minor in biology.
Breaking the box society traps us in
“The Boys & Girls Club has helped me discover the powerful woman, and leader, within me," she said. "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.”
When she first joined the dance team, she didn't even expect to be a captain as such a shy girl.
But, Jenkins said, the club has built her confidence up to be the captain that she has always longed to be.
"It was really tough at first. It was very challenging, but I've just accumulated all these skills like taking risks, keeping the team dynamic afloat, resolving conflicts and also with the help of my coach (Shauree Allotey). She's helped me become a great captain," Jenkins said.
She has also participated in the club's Job Ready, Drivers Ed and SAT prep classes and volunteers at the club for about 15 hours a month.
The free SAT prep class helped her improve from a score of 1100 to 1200.
"It just gives me like endless opportunities I wouldn't have had if it didn't go to the Boys & Girls Club," Jenkins said.
Jenkins will start her college life in the fall.
She's looking forward to joining clubs that involve multicultural and awareness elements, where people can join together as a safe place for other minorities to talk about their own experiences.
As a hip-hop dancer, Jenkins also plans to join the college dance team.
“I am very excited, a little nervous,” she said.
Beyond college, she hopes to be a psychologist, one who's able to understand the human brain and talk people through their traumas and issues that affect their thinking.
To understand people in a scientific way beyond the surface, Jenkins chose to minor in biology, in combination with the psychology aspect, to look into mental health particularly.