Milwaukee high school junior Daijahnay Canady has been named the Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year for the state of Wisconsin, the highest honor given to Boys & Girls Club members. Canady, 16, a sexual assault survivor, will be using the platform to advocate for other young survivors in the midst of the #MeToo movement. She earned the Youth of the Year honor by competing against 15 other Boys & Girls Clubs members from across the state at the Wisconsin Youth of the Year competition in Green Bay on Friday, March 2.
Each year local Clubs select representatives to compete at the state level, with winners advancing to regional and then the national competition. Each competing Club member has to meet academic and community service requirements, write essays, submit letters of endorsement and prepare a three-minute speech. Many Club members use the competition to advocate for issues youth face in their communities, and in Canady’s case, she is using her platform to tie into the #MeToo movement.
“I have made so much positive life progress over the past couple of years, but sharing something as personal as sexual abuse is scary,” said Canady. “Ultimately, I decided if sharing my story can help other people on their journey to healing, then it is well worth facing down my own fears.”
As the Wisconsin Youth of the Year, Canady will spend the next few months preparing for the regional competition in Chicago this summer with hopes of making it to the national competition in Washington D.C. She is also slated to speak at the Denim Day Summit on April 25 and Boys & Girls Clubs’ annual MVP dinner at The Pfister Hotel on May 7. She has also won $1,000 in scholarship money from Milwaukee Youth of the Year sponsor FOX Sports Wisconsin, $10,000 from the Home Team Scholarship and $5,000 from national sponsors Disney and Toyota. She will utilize this scholarship money to achieve her ultimate goal of becoming a criminal prosecutor.
When Canady was seven years old, she was sexually abused—an experience that left her feeling hurt, angry, hopeless and as if she had lost her voice. Without professional help, Canady did her best to cope as she looked for someone to blame. Ultimately, she blamed herself. Over the next several years, she sought attention, and often went about getting it in destructive ways. She acted out in school and let her grades slip, hitting a personal low point during her freshman year of high school.
It was around this time Canady’s life began to turnaround thanks to support from local youth-serving organizations. She was connected to a counselor through Pathfinders’ Hand-in-Hand program for youth survivors of sexual abuse. Finally, she had access to the expert resources who could help her begin the healing process. She also made the decision to transfer to St. Joan Antida High School, which was a better fit for her.
“Daijahnay is a remarkable young lady,” said Paul Gessner, Head of School at St. Joan Antida High School. “From the day she entered the doors at St. Joan’s as a transfer student, we knew she had great potential. Daijahnay’s determination to overcome significant life challenges led her to leverage opportunities, including the Boys & Girls Club programs. She’s grown tremendously as a student, as a leader for her peers, and now as an advocate.”
As a new student, she heard about Boys & Girls Clubs’ afterschool program located in the building. She initially didn’t have much interest in joining until the Club hosted an event associated with the international Denim Day movement—a day to raise awareness that a person’s clothing is never an excuse for rape or sexual assault. Participating in this event gave her purpose and was also the beginning of Canady’s journey to regain her voice.
As Canady spent more time at the Club, staff members began to see a transformation. “When Daijahnay first became a Club member, she lacked confidence,” said Ebony Haynes, Boys & Girls Clubs’ Social Emotional Learning Program Manager. “In the safety of the Club environment and with the encouragement of staff and fellow members, she took on leadership opportunities, began to open up and found her self-worth.”
Now, after nearly two years at her new school and as a Club member, Canady has raised her GPA by 79 percent since freshman year. She is the captain of her high school’s mock trial team, and is being mentored by Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern. She joined a community service program through Boys & Girls Clubs and now leads the planning for the Clubs’ Denim Day event.
Around the same time Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee put out a call across its Clubs for Youth of the Year applicants, the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum and media attention. The movement showed survivors like Canady they were not alone and empowered victims to speak out. Feeling inspired, Canady decided to submit an application for the Milwaukee Youth of the Year competition. A panel of judges selected Canady from seven finalists to represent Milwaukee at the Wisconsin Youth of the Year competition.
About Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM), one of the largest and longest youth-serving agencies in Milwaukee, offers structured after-school and summer programming to more than 41,000 children and teens each year. Within the safety of 51 locations, youth have access to free meals, academic support, role models and opportunities to build character and explore new interests. More than 80 percent of the organization’s annual budget goes toward youth programming. Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized charity evaluator, has given BGCGM its highest rating. For more information, please visit www.BoysGirlsClubs.org.
About St. Joan Antida High School
Founded in 1954, St. Joan Antida High School (SJA) provides a student-centered, intensive college preparatory education to young women in grades 9-12. As Milwaukee’s only all-girl International Baccalaureate World School (IB), SJA is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by providing a competitive education to its students. Partnering with the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, SJA offers an enhanced (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) STEM educational model that is oriented toward academic quality, a culture of excellence, and student-centered learning.