Growing Up Strong
While Richardson Living managed taking its first steps nearly two decades ago, life for the residents within our city limits carried on and the community flourished. Naturally, our littlest citizens, who were also taking their first steps in the early 2000s, are now nearly grown. Their tricycles evolved into scooters, which then became sedans. They maneuvered throughout the early school years and can see adulthood coming into focus. Whether these teenagers stay in our suburbia or relocate afar, there are those who steadfastly have it in mind to change the world. Some are making moves toward just that, here and now.
In Victor Njeru’s book, positively changing the world suggests creating a world in which he would want his family and friends to live. These sentiments line up with the 17-year-old’s compassionate character and desire to leave his imprint. “I think that as individuals, a person’s ability to change the world is dramatically underestimated,” he says. Victor sees no limits.
A young man who lives by his words, Victor took to the stage recently in the Richardson Rotary Club’s four-way speech contest. He wanted the adults in the community to hear his message, seeking to “combat intolerance” and “advocate for those who feel underrepresented.” Conceivably, voicing his passionate appeal for justice earned him the honor of first place. “I aimed for the speech to have an effect, even if minimal, on how people moved through the world and to create a more welcoming society,” he says.
At Richardson High School, Victor participates in a host of activities, including speech and debate and the Afrik Club, an organization focused on handling issues affecting Africans and African-Americans. A fairly good manager of his time, Victor engages in his share of activities outside of school as well and currently serves as vice president of the Teen Advisory Board at the Richardson Public Library. “My interest in serving others has been present in my life since I first came to the United States,” he says. Born in Kenya, Victor has called Richardson home since age 5. He attributes his desire to serve to what he recognizes as grave differences between America and Kenya. “I have always wanted to see a world where people have equal access to education and resources.”
Victor doesn’t merely want to see such an enlightened world; he fervently wants to be a part of manifesting a better place. His goals on the other side of high school include pursuing biochemistry and medical school, participating in the likes of the Pearce Corps or Doctors Without Borders and founding his own nonprofit. Feeling strongly about equality in healthcare, he aspires to form an organization to increase access to healthcare in impoverished areas worldwide. As confidently as this soon-to-be high school senior stands for a better future, he certainly acknowledges that he’s not the only teen standing for change. Elaborating on the impact of the internet, Victor says, “It’s allowing people to be more connected and have a broader reach. It’s also providing more information on issues, which encourages teens to try to play a role in the future.”
Victor alludes to the recent March for Our Lives as an example of how teenagers are receiving time in the spotlight to express their “fresher outlook.” He firmly believes his generation is confidently attempting to shape the future. “Teens are playing a role in speaking out to injustices and issues that affect our communities,” he says. And, Victor’s right there in the mix. Full of mature insight, this well-spoken student also recognizes the roadblocks teens often face when trying to make their voices heard above the chatter of adults. However, he believes teens can gain attention by being bolder and less fearful to share their thoughts. For Victor, appreciating the struggles his parents overcame in becoming American citizens lends him perspective and the motivation to overcome apprehension and maintain his determination.
“Richardson has exposed me to many cultures, and that has helped me develop an understanding of how others think,” he says, acknowledging the meaningful role this community has had in shaping his life. It seems he’s taken that understanding to the next level, because now Victor’s making sure others know exactly what he thinks.
Ainsley Flemons doesn’t consider herself any more notable than others her age. “I think any teen can make a difference,” she says. But, at 15, Ainsley is definitely making an impressive mark on the Richardson community and beyond. The J.J. Pearce High School student defines changing the world for the better as maintaining an upbeat approach and helping others by meeting their needs. As members of the National Charity League, Ainsley and her mom are working to meet many needs, especially those at food banks. Ainsley takes great pleasure in these undertakings and giving back.
Making an individual contribution to society seems to be natural for Ainsley. At church, she teaches Sunday school to kindergartners and works once per month with children with special needs. Wholeheartedly believing this to be her calling, after high school, Ainsley sees herself on the college road to becoming an occupational therapist. Having had some balance issues at a very young age, she went through a year of occupational therapy and looks back on it as a good—“fun, not boring”—experience. She hopes to create the same emotion in children with various needs.
Ainsley also puts great value on impacting the world in a positive way by being a role model. “I want to help others and really help make an imprint on the world and inspire others to really make a difference too,” she says. To rally such inspiration in others, Ainsley’s theory centers on the belief in the likelihood that there are many others sharing her desire to serve but needing motivation to transform desire into action. “Someone is always watching,” she says. “One little thing you do for someone else or for the environment will inspire somebody to go off and make an impact on any issues they believe in.”
An active church member, Ainsley has seen her chain-reaction theory in play. When she recently observed one of her young, Sunday school students offer crackers to another, she noticed how that child then offered water, in return. “Did you do that because I shared with you?” the little girl cheerfully asked the one she had given the crackers to just moments earlier. The other little girl responded affirmatively. “Then, they hugged,” Ainsley says, warmly making her point. Although the sophomore has strived to help others since she can remember, Ainsley only recently realized how much of an effect she and other teens could truly have. “I think that many teens are starting to really play a part in shaping their futures,” she says.
She admits that not until these days—with teens organizing marches, giving powerful speeches and making the news—did she put as much stock into the global value of her own activities and service. Not one to shy away from voicing her opinions, Ainsley appreciates that her voice counts when it comes to change and progress. While she perceives adults having their ears perked and listening more attentively to teens, Ainsley asserts that teens are sometimes not given the credit they deserve. She has felt this discount when, for example, she volunteers with the children at church and notices how some adults in charge occasionally doubt her abilities. At such times, she feels she isn’t given the chance to serve to her full capability.
Ainsley gives high praise where due. “Some adults have really helped motivate me by just encouraging me and reminding me whatever I think is possible, that it is possible, and I can make change,” she says. Those cheerleaders are her parents and small group leaders at church. The cheering has worked wonders, because Ainsley believes in herself enough to make her first mission trip, this summer, without knowing the other high school students going. She will be boarding a plane to Haiti “to learn their culture, help out around the village and teach them about the Lord.”
“Breaking down the boundaries of cultural prejudice”—sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Well, the complexities of that challenge don’t intimidate Jordyn Galvan, a graduating senior at Berkner High School. This past year, along with a few other students on the Superintendent Student Advisory Council, Jordyn created One World, an annual cultural awareness and representation week for all schools within Richardson Independent School District.
“The event connected staff, students and the Richardson community by bringing out everyone’s cultural identification and educating the community on the many different aspects of cultures from all over the globe,” Jordyn says. The basic goal was to “create a culture of kindness,” as she puts it, through forging friendships, lending goodwill, building pride in one’s own background and respecting the backgrounds of others. The week culminated on Friday, with Kindness Day, which was celebrated by the entire city, and will continue to be, on Feb. 16. Jordyn witnessed the program working—seeing walls coming down. “I saw people who had never met each other find friendship within their similarities and differences,” she says. “I saw different groups of people merge and create one, huge unit of people.” The impact stretched far. Refugee students expressed to Jordyn how welcomed and at home they felt. Jordyn saw her progressive, good wishes take form.
Jordyn’s enthusiasm for initiating One World came somewhat out of her own experience with the bitterness of life. She has been subject to her share of judgment and discrimination. If she could help the situation, she didn’t want others to feel unwelcome, unsafe or unheard. “Change starts with an idea, followed by a passion,” she says. Jordyn’s feats depict what she so articulately portrays. “As long as a person is true and dedicated, then they have the ability to impact the lives of thousands,” she continues. This 18-year-old person is the real deal. To some (of any age), endeavors such as One World may not, at first, seem nearly feasible. Jordyn’s faith combats such doubts. “I believe teenagers can have a huge role on current and world issues,” she says.
An informed student who stays on top of current events, Jordyn doesn’t acknowledge the notion of youth lacking the wherewithal to work toward quite significant accomplishments. Despite the school tragedies of late, she takes comfort in the strength and passion that have also come out of the pain and recognizes the positive, cultural movement taking place. “I think teens are playing a huge role in this shift by showing the world that just because someone is young, does not mean that they do not have opinions, passions, thoughts and a voice,” she says. Having a voice and making it heard are two different pictures. As for the issues she’s most passionate about—those surrounding human rights and social equality, Jordyn knows well how to make her presence known and gather supporters. “I am currently addressing these issues by educating myself and others on these topics, showing my peers that they have a voice and that they can use it by contacting our representatives, getting all campuses involved—not only in our schools but in our community— and holding summits and events to effectively involve the community of all people,” Jordyn says. Referring to her age group as a “digital generation,” she also gives a serious nod to social media as a means to quickly reaching the masses.
Jordyn’s college plans to pursue political science and foreign affairs appear to be well placed. With an illustrious, high school career marked by participation in copious clubs, including (but not nearly limited to!) Key Club, Peer Mediators, Debate Club and both the Principal’s Advisory Council and the Superintendent Student Advisory Council, she feels equipped for the college journey. As she looks to the future, she has a vision that also looks back. “I want to play a positive part in changing the world for the better like other generations did for mine,” she says. “I want to continue the legacy of improvement so that we as a world are always growing, and one day will be able to support and connect all people.”
A love for the city she has grown up in, Jordyn gives credit to Richardson for having given her a glimpse of the world—one that will make the journey onward a little less intimidating. The racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the area has prepared her for the ups and downs beyond the city limits. “It’s a melting pot of people and ideas,” she explains. That it is.
A longtime resident of Richardson, Deborah Pope lives with her husband, their teenage daughter and the family's two dogs. She spends her professional time writing, editing and teaching and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.