The mission of the worldwide organization Junior Achievement is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.
The organization’s local chapter, Junior Achievement of Western Pa., has caused quite a buzz around town lately, thanks to its first-ever “18 Under Eighteen” awards ceremony which takes place, Feb. 22, at the National Aviary, on the North Side.
Billboards throughout the region have been showcasing 18 students in high school or below who have achieved their fair share of accomplishments already.
Patrice Matamoros, the local chapter’s president, told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Feb. 11, that young people have gone through so many changes over the past two years thanks to the COVID pandemic. They’ve missed in-person school sessions, graduations, proms, even caught COVID in some cases, but still, many youths have persevered.
“We wanted to create this community of like-minded kids and also showcase this treasure of talent, of resources that we have,” Matamoros said, adding that there will be a second edition of JA’s “18 Under Eighteen” in 2023.
“We wanted to be that organization that showcases more off-the-field (achievements), because that’s where the majority of people will spend their time in life…really let people know that there’s talent here, and also connect that talent to opportunity in the region.”
Matamoros said it’s imperative that Pittsburgh-area students find career opportunities after college in the region, rather than going away to college and finding opportunities elsewhere.
“Junior Achievement’s all about creating a pipeline to next-generation workforce, as well as career pathways,” she said.
Of the 18 students being honored, seven are African American. They include: Makayla Alaquiva, 10, an avid learner of sign language who used her passion to inspire and amplify the voices of those who are deaf or with disabilities during the social unrest of 2020. She is also a leader of her school’s “No Place For Hate” committee and assists the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank by filming cooking sessions and commercials for local TV stations;
Isiah Davis, 18, who created the clothing brand 1WayOut with his brother. Davis said his message is that people don’t have to stay where they are, they can work hard and find a way out to somewhere else they want to be;
Jasmine DeBruce, 17, who introduced the first Black Student Union to Shady Side Academy’s middle school, and is the current president of her high school’s Black Student Union;
Morgan McCray, 15, who, as an eighth-grader, felt there were policies at her school which were racially-biased. She then offered her vision for change in the school’s curriculum, including teacher training;
RYLEIGH MACKENZIE TARDY
Ryleigh Mackenzie Tardy, 13, who started a business, Kenz N’ Co., a line of school supplies which showcases positive images and phrases of African Americans. She also founded Girls With Goals, a mentoring club in her school that helps younger girls navigate the school experience;
Cynthia Torrence, 17, founder of her own tropical beverage company, NIU by TALLS, LLC. She’s also an AmeriCorps Service Volunteer mentoring underserved preschool students; and
Naomi Zenmon, 17, already an inductee into the National Honors Society for Dance Arts. One of her choreographed pieces that spoke to the heightened racial and social injustices since the George Floyd death earned her national recognition.
Other awardees include: Zachary Betz; Griffin Hurt; Elizabeth Kott; Anne Lindsay; Isabella Murano; Rocco Otto; Susannah Poese; James Swift; Braden Thomas; Yoshna Venkataraman; and Isabella Walsh.