Inspiring Youth of the Year
We recently attended the Youth of the Year banquet for the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco. Every year, the Boys and Girls Clubs bring together hundreds of people from the San Francisco community to celebrate the incredible youth in their programs with this luncheon.
Each of the eight San Francisco finalists were given the chance to speak on stage. Their speeches were incredibly moving, inspiring, and courageous. We both have lived privileged lives, and it’s important to us to not forget that. Events like this remind us of how lucky we’ve been, and how not everyone shares the opportunities we’ve had. This inspires us to take action and give back to those in need; coming from such a privileged place necessitates such action. The Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco do incredible work to support, teach, motivate, and inspire our community’s youth. Please consider being involved or donating here.
The winner of the San Francisco Youth of the Year was Janice Conley of the Willie Mays Clubhouse. Janice was unbelievably poised, mature, and well-spoken, and we were both struck by her speech. You can read the text of her speech below. Congratulations to Janice and all members of the Boys and Girls Clubs!
Youth of the Year Speech by Janice Conley
I tell my story not for you to know me, but for you to understand me. And to understand me you need to hear me. Growing up, it seemed like everyone expected me to fail. I was labeled. Labeled in every way. From living in the Bayview, to growing up in public housing; from being not just a black girl, but a dark-skinned black girl. And from having locks to having a mom who was once a dope fiend. People didn’t just think I was going to fail. They knew it.
My mother wasn’t in my life until I was about 10 years old, but my older sister was. The story my mom tells me went something like this: “For 9 years I was on drugs. I wasn’t there to take care of you. Your sister, from when she was 5 years old until 11, played the mom’s role.” For many years, my sister and I were in and out of foster care, or going from relative to relative. I was so that I was unable to process all that was happening. When I was about 10 years old, my mom came back into my life. She had entered a rehab program and brought me with her. Together we learned. We were taught to be patient, understanding, and open minded.
My mom instilled in me all the morals and characteristics that I have today. I’m happy to say that we’re tight. Very tight. I like to say that she’s my bestie … but my sister is too! My mom was the person who signed me up for the Club when I was 12 years old. When I first walked through the doors of the Willie Mays Clubhouse in Hunters Point, it was as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was like, I was going to be ok. I could be no one but JJ. Exactly who I am. I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. I could just be me and be proud of it – outgoing, open minded, and resilient. Now, I am the foundation that the Club thrives on.
At the Club, I was exposed to opportunities that helped build my leadership skills such as the Keystone Club, Boys & Girls Club’s teen leadership program, where I was the Treasurer. Thanks to the Charles Schwab Money Matters Program, I not only learned how to budget money but also to help others be more aware of their financial situations. And, as a teen staff, I not only worked with kids from all different backgrounds, but I also became a mentor for most of them.
I showed the younger members that it was ok to be your true self, no matter what. I passed on a statement that my mom and sister would say to me all the time: “No matter what, you don’t give up. You go above and beyond. Tell yourself, “I am somebody.” Don’t forget who you are and don’t say what you can’t do.’
I would like to leave you with this: Look at me. What do you see? Well, I will tell you what I see. I see a tree that grew from ashes after being burned too many times… but each time, I came back stronger. I’m proud of who I am. I’m strong and I’m a beautiful African princess. I’m going to college next year, and from there, on to bigger and better things! I’ve overcome incredible odds and I’m determined to inspire others from similar backgrounds to succeed and to make a difference in the world! My name is Janice-Nicole Conley, and I am the 2018 Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year. Thank you.