If kids are our future, we have a lot to look forward to as the 16 young people chosen as this year’s Amazing Teens grow into adulthood. Although they come from across the metro and pursue varied interests and activities, they all have one thing in common: big dreams and the tenacity to pursue them, full force. Some are taking their skills out of state, to show the folks at MIT and Vanderbilt what Jackson, Miss., has to offer. Others are sticking around, to make a difference in the city they call home. Either way, prepare to be amazed.
Sarah and Kayla Roberts
by Nneka Ayozie
Gone are the days when only adults protested in the wake of civil unrest. Though Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers have passed on, today's hellraisers come in smaller packages. Two local activists are sisters: 15-year-old Kayla Roberts and 16-year-old Sarah Roberts. Their mission is to protect women's right to choose, which they do by volunteering at the Jackson's Women's Health Organization, serving as escorts to patients.
"We started this January, shortly after the Roe vs. Wade anniversary," Sarah says.
The organization offers family-planning services, which include but are not limited to pregnancy testing, gynecology exams and abortions. Because they offer abortions, JWHO faces harsh criticism from anti-abortion protesters.
"Hearing the antis' judgments of the women entering the clinic is the hardest part. They tell them that they're going to hell, and God won't forgive them,'' Kayla says, adding that she has personally suffered tongue lashings from the angry mobs. "They tell me that I'm going to hell, and that I am a disgrace to God."
Both sisters say that the upsides to it all, though, are the looks of relief from patients, and that they get to help their mom, Laurie Bertram Roberts, president of the Mississippi National Organization for Women. "We don't want her to be there by herself, and if we don't do it (escort the patients), who will?" Sarah says.
These teens are not only amazing because of their courage, but for their academic achievements and civil engagement as well. Kayla and Sarah are both home-schooled--Sarah takes college-level courses in addition to her regular course work. They serve as co-chairs of Mississippi NOW's Young Feminist Movement; volunteer as clinic escorts eight hours a day, three days a week; maintain a baby-sitting business; and are active in the American Civil Liberties Union.
In their downtime, you could probably catch the teens hanging out at Sneaky Beans in Fondren. Sarah likes to listen to show tunes and opera, or watch quirky science-fiction films. Kayla writes poetry--she won second place at the Southern Poverty Law Center's Poetry & Art Slam back in 2012. For more info on their cause, visit the National Organization for Women Facebook page.
by Bethany Bridges
Cargin Madison's resume could compete with many college graduates'. At age 16, he presides as sophomore class president and is a member of the band and choir at Jim Hill High School. He also serves as a peer mediator in the T.A.P. program (Talk About the Problem), a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club, a youth adviser for the Children's Defense Fund's Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign and is the soundman for his church.
It may seem impossible for a 17-year-old to maintain high scholastic achievement in school while being a catalyst for social change--but for this amazing teen who manages to maintain a 3.0 GPA--it's all in a day's work.
Madison's niche for activism is simply a reflection of his personality. "He's always been a helper," his mom, Stephanie Madison, says. "He's the type of kid that likes to make sure everyone is in order, and he's always willing to help."
Cargin Madison recognizes the role his extracurriculars play in shaping him. "I enjoy being actively involved in making a positive difference in society," he says. "If I wasn't involved in positive things, who knows what I'd be doing? ... That's why I'm dedicated to doing the right things."
Madison's helping hands will touch lives well beyond his high school years. He plans to attend either Southern University or the University of Mississippi for a bachelor's degree in biology. Afterward, he hopes to attend the University of Mississippi Medical Center for medical school. Ultimately, Madison plans to become a pediatrician.
James Holt Crews Jr.
by Jacquelynn Pilcher
James Holt Crews Jr. is a jack-of-all-trades. Crews, the son of James Holt and Sidney Crews, is a 10th-grade student at Jackson Preparatory School who has been on the honor roll for the past four years. He is the oldest of three children (five if you include his furry family members).
Crews, 16, originally hails from Tennessee. He moved to Mississippi when he was 2 years old.
He found his calling when he spent 10 months in Belize with his father, who was working at a clinic. Crews hopes to follow in his father's footsteps and become a surgeon, dedicated to bettering the lives of others.
In junior high, Crews was in the Junior Honor Society and Chi Alpha Mu, a mathematics honor society, where he received the prestigious national Danforth Award for outstanding character in the 9th grade. He also joined the National Honor Society upon entering high school at Jackson Prep.
His favorite subjects include math and science, which will prepare him for the career path he intends to pursue. This hard-working student has an impressive 4.0 grade point average. He hopes to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., upon graduation from high school.
Outside school, Crews is a proud participant in the National Eagle Scout Association as well as Youth Leadership Jackson, a program of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership. There, he develops his leadership skills and builds strong character. In his spare time, he loves to hunt and fish, and play golf, guitar and banjo.
by Leigh Horn
Cipreuna Church loves children. Her face lights up as she speaks energetically of her dream to pursue a career in pediatric nursing. She doesn't have to wait to make a difference in kids' lives, however. In addition to dance team, track, soccer, and balancing her advanced-placement-heavy classwork while staying in the top 20 of her class, Church manages to volunteer with Toys for Tots. She also takes care of kids, emphasizing how much she adores newborns. She hopes to work specifically with them.
Church also works with JPS Girls Rock, a program Miss JSU Sarah Brown created (Cipreuna calls her "big sister"). JPS Girls Rock tours the Jackson Public Schools system letting girls know how much they matter, and how they can change their lives for the better.
Brown met Church at Callaway High School through Girls Rock, and gives insight on Church's impact on those around her. "I've seen (Cipreuna) step up and be a leader in her school, no matter what hardships she faces," Brown says.
In fact, Church will act as a mentor in the JPS Girls Rock camp this summer at Jackson State University, finding yet another outlet for her eagerness to be involved. Her favorite teacher, Stacey Bailey, who teaches math at Callaway, inspires her because Bailey "really cares and wants to help you," Church says.
Church says she would like to one day "give back to group homes for kids without moms." Helping her single mom raise her younger siblings (two sisters and one brother) while her mother worked two jobs inspired Church to work hard.
"You can do anything you put your mind to, no matter what people think," Church says.
by Krista Davis
Servant leaders aren't born, they're created. Kayley Scruggs, 18, was born in Atlanta, Ga., but relocated to Jackson at a young age. She is a senior at Northwest Rankin High School and is the president of the math-based service club, Mu Alpha Theta. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Key Club, where she won the distinguished service award for obtaining more than 150 service hours--three times the required amount.
Scruggs also enjoys spreading her service beyond school. She volunteers at hospitals, The Mustard Seed, and Stewpot Community Services.
"I am most passionate about helping others," she says. Scruggs, along with other students from Northwest Rankin and Jim Hill high schools, participates in "Better Together," a program that attempts to erase racial conflicts in the school system. Through the program, she helps other teens reach understanding through honest conversation, release tension and rid stereotypes about various groups of students.
Scruggs also traveled to Jamaica to do service learning in an orphanage. "I have found the perfect balance in going to work to save for college, rigorous school courses, and finding time to do things I am passionate about," she says.
She has been accepted at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., where she will study nursing. She plans to become a midwife. "Getting into Emory was a very proud moment," Scruggs says.
When Scruggs isn't involved with school, work, or service learning, she enjoys writing, the outdoors and music.
by ShaWanda Jacome
One afternoon I received a text from my aunt about an exceptional young man that had been doing some yard work for her. Later, she sent a letter to me that included this: "During the early part of the summer (a few years ago), I was suffering from severe arthritis and needed someone to mow my yard. Gary assisted me and made sure that my yard was in immaculate condition during the time, which is almost unheard of for young men in today's time. ... This young man is not only a pillar to the community but one who needs to be recognized as an example for other young men to emulate."
Gary Gray, 15, moved to Canton from Little Rock, Ark., with his parents, when his dad became Mississippi's national service director for the Disabled American Veterans organization. Gray is currently a freshman at Germantown High School where he is a honor-roll student and a cadet corporal in the Jr. ROTC, in which he was recently awarded student of the month. "The program teaches you overall how to be a better citizen ... morals and values ... it makes you the best person you can be whether you go into the military or work as a civilian," he says. This summer he will attend Jr. ROTC camps in San Diego and Anniston, Ala.
Outside of school, Gray is an active member of his church, New Jerusalem, where he volunteers and has been in the youth choir for the last two years. His most rewarding volunteer experience was when his church packed brown-bag lunches and gave them out to kids in the Jackson neighborhoods surrounding the New Jerusalem church campuses.
Gray is also a talented athlete who has been doing gymnastics for almost two years. He participates in the parallel bars, vault, rings, pommel horse, high bar and floor. "I have always had a passion for flipping. When I found out what gymnastics was, I loved to flip in the backyard and teach myself how to do tricks. Once I found out it was a sport--that I could go in and be taught to do things correctly--I was so into it," he says.
He has aspirations to compete in the Olympics one day and is working hard to accomplish that goal. He trains at Courthouse Gymnastics in Flowood, and this summer will be at the gym for three-hour practices, four days a week. "I'm kind of starting late compared to people who've been doing it since they were 3 years old. ... Because I'm older, I use what I already can do to advance as quickly as I can," he says. In March, Gary competed in a level-five gymnastics competition and won the title of state champion in his division.
by ShaWanda Jacome
At the home of the Falcons, senior Richelle Smith is soaring to new heights. Smith, 17, is the student body president at Wingfield High School. She also served her school as class representative her junior year. Smith is a member of the Mu Alpha Zeta math honor society, the National Honors Society and an Entergy Ambassador. Selected when entering from middle school, ambassadors must be on the honor roll and maintain a high grade point average. As an ambassador, Smith helps out around her school--this year she helped decorate the cafeteria.
As an alto in the school's choir, Smith competed in the Mississippi High School Activities Association District VI Choral Festival hosted by Pearl High School in February. Forty-four choirs and ensembles representing 20 schools competed in the District VI event. Wingfield scored marks of excellent for their performance.
Smith also likes to volunteer at health and wellness walks and helping with Habitat for Humanity. Through her church, God's Refuge Christian Fellowship Center, she serves as a hostess, helps with hospitality, and participates in the choir and praise dance team. Her friends would describe her as smart, goofy, a good person to talk to and that she loves to laugh.
Wingfield's 11th- and 12th-grade math teacher, Alexander Barrett, nominated Smith. "Richelle is trustworthy, hard-working and generous," he says of his student of two years. "She is extremely motivated, holding herself to high standards in her behavior and academics and working very hard to meet those standards. Richelle is competitive but not at the expense of others--she is always willing to help a classmate work through a difficult problem."
After graduation, Smith plans to attend Jackson State University and major either in accounting or social justice. She became interested in social justice through her African American studies and U.S. History classes.
She also had the opportunity to talk to representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, which piqued her interest because she "likes how they do things."
Lorretta Denise Williams
by Jacquelynn Pilcher
Lorretta Denise Williams is celebrating her senior year with joy and determination
Williams, 18, lives in Jackson. She attends Pleasant Valley Missionary Baptist Church with her parents, Ivory and Rose Williams. She sings in the "Soul of Provine" school choir, is a student council representative, participates in Students Against Violence Everywhere, the Not Here Club, Beta Club and JROTC.
Recently Williams received the "Scholastic Excellence" award at Provine High School. The school district superintendent presents the award to the JROTC cadet with the utmost excellence in each JPS school.
Williams also received first place across the district for the "Why Did I Enroll in JROTC?" essay contest.
Williams is on the honor roll and a proud member of the National Honor Society. She received the pre-calculus achievement award and Spanish II award. Students voted her as Miss Provine High School 2012-2013, as well as "Most School Spirited."
In her time outside school, Williams enjoys hanging out with friends, talking and spending time with her family. She likes to sing and is learning to play electric guitar. Her motto is: "If God is for you, who can be against you?"
She admires her father and aims to be successful like him. Her first step in chasing her dream will begin this fall when she matriculates at Mississippi Valley State University where she will study accounting.
"If you believe in your dreams and goals, no one can keep you from them," she says.
by Mo Wilson
At first glance, Graeme Campbell seems like an average 17-year-old Murrah High School student, wearing loose fitting jeans, sneakers and a hoodie. Only after realizing that his hoodie is emblazoned with the letters MIT--for famed university Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he will attend this fall--do you get a hint of the brilliance in this young man.
Campbell is the kind of talker whose speed and intelligence transfixes those who spend time with him. He speaks rapid-fire about biology, physics and public policy. Campbell plays on the varsity soccer team and is a member of Murrah's debate and quiz bowl team.
He also is a member of the Base Pair Program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he does research on the influenza virus. Campbell hopes to be able to manipulate the virus into attacking cells in the human body that we do not want, such as plaque or cancerous cells.
What gets him most excited is MIT where he's wanted to go to since freshman year. He credits the admissions website as being "the best."
"When you're a kid, you wonder, 'What will college be like?' So I would go to the MIT website and read student blogs, and that's what really sold me," he says. A visit to a MIT fraternity house where he saw a member shattering wine glasses with sound also helped sway his decision, he says.
Campbell looks forward to being challenged by MIT's famously intense curriculum, such as the infamous junior physics lab. "It's supposed to be the hardest class at MIT,"
by ShaWanda Jacome
Ask 16-year-old Drake Beneke about his faith, and he emphatically says: "It's everything! If you don't have God in your life, you don't have anything."
A sophomore at Jackson Academy, Drake is the son of Jill and Richard Beneke. This school year, Drake joined Youth Leadership Jackson. Working with the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, the program trains and motivates selected high school sophomores and juniors through leadership training, community-oriented seminars and interaction with adult leaders. The goal is to expose young leaders to the various elements that combine to form a strong and dynamic metropolitan area. Through the program, Drake has had to opportunity to volunteer at the Salvation Army, visit the jail in downtown Jackson, meet with a sheriff and learned how he can help his fellow Jacksonians.
Drake has been a member of Christ United Methodist Church since birth where he has served in roles as a confirmation leader, a discipleship group leader, and participated summit groups. As a mentor to younger children, he helps them learn more about God, the Bible, how to be more Christ-like and helps them with troubles they may be facing in their lives.
At JA, he is on the golf, cross country and basketball teams. He is also a member of the chess and French club. After graduation, Drake hopes to attend college at the University of Mississippi or go out-of-state to study law or engineering. Currently, he works as an administrative assistant for the Jackson-based IT consulting and systems integration firm, the Pileum Corporation where his mother is the president and CEO. During the summer he enjoys traveling to Michigan and Illinois with his family--he is one of seven children.
He says that his greatest inspiration comes from his father and his grandfather. "My grandfather passed away about three years ago, and it's been hard without him. He was a great guy. He started off with nothing and he made something out of himself. He was a strong Christian and that's what I hope to be when I grow up," he says.
by Amber Helsel
Morgan Buchanan's schedule eats your schedule for breakfast.
"I'm so busy right now," she says. "I don't have time anymore."
Buchanan, 16, is a junior at Madison Central High School. She is a cheerleader, a model, a "Bombshell Girl" for local clothing boutique Pink Bombshell, is active in the community, and participates in many high school clubs and organizations, such as Beta Club and yearbook staff.
"I haven't been able to sleep in for a while until recently," she says.
As a Bombshell Girl, she models for photo shoots at the Renaissance in Ridgeland and does fashion shows and other benefit events for the Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital and the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi.
Her work with diabetes hits especially close to home with her because at the age of 43, her father, David, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
"It was really shocking and nerve-wracking when he got it," she says. "He's not overweight. He didn't have it as a child, so 43 is kind of random."
Along with diabetes awareness, she does some work to raise awareness for scoliosis, or abnormal curvature of the spine, which she was diagnosed with around age 12.
After seeing her sister Jolie's spine change from the disorder, Morgan's parents adamantly checked her for any changes in her spine until one day, they noticed a bend. Shortly after that discovery, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed her with scoliosis. To combat the spinal changes, she constantly stood up straight. She says that her mom would push her shoulders back to remind her.
Buchanan's career goal is to get a degree in aeronautics from Mississippi State University and then become a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines.
"I just love traveling," she says. "I want to grow up and be a pilot that gets up and goes to Atlanta, and that's when the day starts. You know, one day I'll fly to Tokyo. The next day I'll be in London. I don't want to sit in an office every day for the rest of my life."
by ShaWanda Jacome
Courteous and soft-spoken, Benjamin Quinn will give the Wingfield High School graduation speech on May 28 at the Mississippi Coliseum as this year's valedictorian. Quinn, 18, is nervous about speaking in front of friends, family and well-wishers, but it is an honor he has earned by maintaining the highest grade point average, 3.85, in his senior class of 164 students.
He cites his mom, Dominica, as the driving force behind his success. "She always pushes me ... she wants me to do my best to be successful," he says.
A Jackson native, Quinn participates in several activities at his school: football, student government and the National Honor Society. He is also the senior class vice president and part of the Entergy Ambassadors program. As an ambassador, he volunteers and serves the students at his school. This year he mentored 9th and 10th graders on "how things work" around the school.
When asked how his friends would describe him, Quinn says they would say he is "funny, easy to get along with, always a hard-worker, (... I) love doing my work--my favorite subject is math. Anything they need help with, I'd gladly help them with."
Wingfield 11th- and 12th-grade math teacher Alexander Barrett nominated Benjamin because of his exceptional good nature and maturity. "Both teachers and classmates can count on him to exercise good judgment or lend a helping hand. He is very bright and a natural leader in class and on the football team, but in spite of all his accomplishments, Ben is very modest," Barrett says.
by ShaWanda Jacome
Max Harrigill is not your typical 14-year-old boy. He is a junior in high school, carrying a load of five AP classes (biology, Latin, U.S. government, calculus, and English-language and composition) at Madison Ridgeland Academy--all while maintaining a 4.93 grade point average. Harrigill skipped fifth and eighth grade along with his twin sister, Tori.
"Not only is Max smart, he is a caring and genuinely nice person. ... He always has a smile on his face and is always very nice and polite to everyone he meets, in every situation. He is a hard worker and a self-starter. He is very determined," she says.
In addition to his studies, Harrigill is co-president of the Latin club and a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Zeta math honor society and the tennis team. He stays just as busy outside school, participating in Youth Leadership Jackson, the Governor's Youth Advisory Council and the Madison County Junior Youth Ambassadors, as well as volunteering with his family.
Last summer he attended the National Youth Leadership Forum on Collegiate Success held at Yale University. During the four-day forum, he worked with other young leaders representing 30 states to develop their communication skills, time and stress management, financial responsibility and more. "We learned how to be better leaders and how not to fall into peer pressure when we get to college," Harrigill says.
With only two required classes left to take in high school, Max will also take courses at Holmes Community College next year. Upon graduation he hopes to matriculate at Millsaps College in 2014 on a scholarship and major in chemistry or neuroscience. Inspired by his aunt (Best of Jackson 2012 and 2013, Dr. Manisha Sethi of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in Ridgeland), Harrigill hopes to follow in her footsteps.
"She graduated from high school when she was 15, and I'm going to graduate when I'm 16. She went to Millsaps, and then she went to medical school. She helped me in making my decision to also want to be a doctor one day," he says. This summer he plans to shadow an ophthalmologist in Jackson.
With all his many accomplishments and activities, Harrigill still takes time to hang with his friends and play video games--"Call of Duty: Black Ops" anyone?
by Mo Wilson
Elizabeth Nichols, 18, is the kind of friendly smart girl you talk to for hours, laughing about teachers and chatting about what she's excited about for college. ("The food," Nichols says). She seems like a pretty average teen until she lets it slip that her research on breast-cancer victims is going to get published in a medical journal.
The Murrah High School senior did her research with the UMMC Base Pair program on breast-cancer victims, tracking mortality rates with public records like the U.S. Census. After mapping her results, she proved that women who are racial minorities or living in a lower-income areas are more likely to die
from breast cancer.
She credits Base Pair, a biomedical research mentorship program, with giving her passion for medicine, which she will have the chance to peruse at Vanderbilt. After being rejected from her choice school, Yale University, she was unsure where she would end up for college.
However, after attending Vanderbilt's multicultural program, Nichols was sold. "I just met so many interesting people, and from all over the world" she gushed.
A girl who is always ready with a playful grin, it is easy to see why students elected her as their student body president. She also really loves being the head of the yearbook staff, and credits her community of smart students around her for a healthy sense of
by Leigh Horn
"You always fail before you succeed," Austin Tucker says.
Startlingly, these words come from a 16-year-old. He says his hero, Michael Jordan, didn't make his 9th-grade basketball team. "He worked really hard," Austin explains. "And he came back the next season and averaged 25 points a game."
Tucker took Jordan's example of hard work to heart. A member of the track team and the basketball team at Jackson Academy, Tucker suffered a knee injury at the end of 2012 that required surgery in February. Despite this setback, he rejoined his teammates court only weeks after surgery. Even while getting physical therapy, he rarely missed practice and never missed a game.
Tucker also found other ways to stay involved. He refereed basketball games for younger kids. At one game, he helped a young boy who had blood pouring out his nose after receiving an elbow to the face. Staying calm, Tucker stopped the game and took the boy to the bathroom to take care of him. He let the boy sit, got tissues for him and held his head back to stop the bleeding.
"I want to be a sports doctor because I love sports, and I love medicine," Tucker says. He hopes to attend the University of Mississippi after graduation and come back to Jackson for medical school. He sees his future in Mississippi because he "grew up here, and because of the (state's rich) history."
As a member of the National Junior Honor Society, Youth Leadership Jackson and the Boy Scouts, Austin stays busy. If he could give back something to Jackson, Austin says that he would "build more playgrounds for children. The more busy they are, the less they'll think about dropping out of school and doing crimes," he says.
by Krista Davis
Grace Gibson's days are packed. The 18-year-old senior at St. Andrew's Episcopal School is involved all across the metro.
"Sometimes I'm overwhelmed and busy, but at the end of the day they're worthwhile," she says. She volunteers at Boyd Elementary, Operation Shoestring (a local non-profit organization), and helps homeless people through her church, St. Alexis Episcopal Church.
"My church and family have supported me so much," she says.
At St. Andrew's, Gibson favors Latin and art history. She is also in charge of the St. Andrew's service learning program, is the president of the National Art Honor Society, art editor of the literary magazine The Pasture, is in the Cum Laude Society and National Honor Society. A talented writer, Gibson earned the national gold medal for flash fiction for her short story, "Pygmalion."
"I felt relieved when I won," Gibson says. "I felt like somebody could relate to such a personal story." She recently entered the Mississippi Literary Competition and is waiting to hear results from that contest.
Gibson will attend Sewanee University in Sewanee, Tenn., where she received a scholarship from the Department of Art History. "I'm excited! It is a perfect fit for me," she says. "It couldn't have worked out better."
"Grace's energy level is what makes her amazing," says Jerry Goodwin, an art teacher at St. Andrew's. "How she is able to juggle service projects, community service, class work, church, boyfriend--it's amazing!" After high school Gibson wants to be remembered as the person who cared about her school, community and the world.
"It is too easy to be in a bubble. I want to pay attention to the world," she says.
by Jacquelynn Pilcher
Lanier High School's Traeshaun Hiley earned the title of STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition) Student by getting the highest ACT score in the school. His admiration for his parents, Shalonda Hiley and Eric Williams, drives him to succeed in his studies and be a great leader to his younger peers and siblings, Jonah Williams, Elijah Richardson and
Hiley, 18, is a youth ambassador for Youth Service America. As a member of YSA he serves his community learning to work hard towards achieving his dreams and goals. He is a well-rehearsed trombone player for his school band, part of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, a student board trustee for Lanier High School and the president of the Student Govern-
He received the Mu Alpha Theta award, a mathematics award, and the prestigious Mr. LET 2 & 3 awards, which are awarded to the top JROTC cadets in the school. LET stands for Leadership, Education and Training. Hiley is also a proud member of the National Society of High School Scholars.
When Hiley is not serving his community, studying for tests or governing his class, he likes to just relax. He enjoys cooking pasta in his mom's kitchen, eating, catching up on rest and hanging out with friends.
Hiley says he would like to become a computer software engineer in the future. He plans to attend either Jackson State University or Mississippi State University. Whichever he decides to pursue, the school will be lucky to gain such an out-