Ja’Nylah Johnson, named Youth of the Year by the Alameda Boys & Girls Club in January of 2018, now attends Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina with a full scholarship. This October, Ja’Nylah took the time to give her former schoolmates at Nea Community Learning Center a quick virtual tour of her campus and dormitory. Using her cell phone, Ja’Nylah showed the Nea seniors around and answered questions about her experiences at Bennett.
When asked what they thought of their virtual check-in with Ja’Nylah, current Nea seniors were very enthusiastic. “It means a lot seeing someone who looks like us, talks like us, there at college. It makes us feel like we can do it too. It’s inspiring,” said A.J. Leiva. “It definitely made college feel more real,” added Max Shepherd. “None of my family members went to college, so it was a new experience to see someone I know, someone I grew up with, in a place like that,” said Talajah Zed. Suzanne Crawford, who teaches Nea’s senior seminar, confirmed that Ja’Nylah’s visit was “a big boost to all the college application work they need to do in October and November.”
Ja’Nylah was happy to reach back to her high school classmates because, “I know how they are feeling right now. Senior year is hard. Being a first generation college student is hard. I want them to recognize their accomplishments, to guide and support them. Ja’Nylah told her former classmates that Nea had prepared her for college by teaching her to be her own advocate. “If I didn’t go to Nea, I wouldn’t be so independent. It gave me personal confidence and taught me to take the initiative, to be myself and to present myself in a professional way.”
Ja’Nylah’s former classmates are all college-bound, with hopes of attending schools such as Cal Poly, Cal State East Bay, the University of Southern California, and UT Austin. Their planned careers include electrical engineering, social work, and psychology. Leiva has already received early acceptance to the University of Arizona and plans to become a counselor. When asked if they would carry on the new tradition by reaching back to next year’s seniors, A.J. Jemal said “I know the 11th graders, I hang out with them,” he said, “They are cool. I would absolutely do this for them.”