On the surface, Janiyah Johnson appears to be your typical ten-year old girl. She loves technology, dancing, and socializing – a lot. It’s common to find her chatting it up with students during before care and after care activities at the Edna Martin Christian Center, and trust me, she gives as good as she gets.
One of our best and brightest, Janiyah attends Tindley Renaissance Academy, a highly touted, mayor sponsored charter school on Indianapolis’ East side with an African-American student population at 94 percent and free and a reduced lunch rate just over 75 percent.
Circumstances beyond Janiyah’s control shook up her two-parent household deep in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. Her father was recently sentenced to a 25-year prison term for attempted murder. Janiyah, her mother and her younger sister have found themselves struggling to adjust to life as a single parent family on a single parent income.
Prior to the loss of her father to incarceration, Janiyah’s uncle was the victim of senseless violence, tragically murdered when she was seven. Without question, the odds have been stacking up against Janiyah, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to her.
Janiyah’s plight is exacerbated by her surrounding community, with pervasive criminal activity within steps of her home. Mom in fact readily admits she prohibits Janiyah and her sister from outdoor play because four registered sex offenders reside within blocks of their home.
Despite these challenges, Janiyah shines as a beacon of light in a community in sore need. When in deep contemplation, she admits to wondering what “normal” life would be like. By normal, she’d just take the ability to go outside and play.
Ever cognizant of her realities, in recent years Janiyah has taken to expression through writing. Mom has complemented this emerging talent with other wraparound supports, such as grief counseling offered through the Center’s “Out of School” programming and regular engagement in extracurricular activities. In what mom attributes to the counseling sessions in particular, Janiyah is channeling her feelings through the development of positive coping skills and peer supports.
Despite facing more challenges than any child should have to endure, what has remained consistent is her performance. Janiyah has maintained honor roll status since age seven, in an institution that prides itself on a academic rigor, with a strong track record of results. If there is a template for overcoming adversity, Janiyah is following it to a tee.