Photo and story by Shaddia Lee

“Mom, I do not look like everyone else. I have thick, coarse black hair and the rest of the little girls in my class have silky, long, smooth hair,” little Rayven Jones told her mother more than a decade ago.

Who knew that an innocent 5-year-old could be bullied because of her natural hair? Jones felt pressured to perm her hair because the other kids would pick at her and call it “nappy.”

As Jones grew older, she realized that she was damaging herself and that what others thought was not important. Physically and mentally, Jones began to have a different outlook on life. Her granddad, Gregory Jones Sr., helped her get through it.

“He was my rock and motivator, and I will forever be grateful for the impact he placed upon my life,” she says.

Jones has been in the Academic Performing Arts Program, or APAC, since the fourth grade. She plays with the Mississippi Youth Symphony Orchestra where she is second violin principle. She has traveled across the country playing her violin. Now a 10th grader at Murrah High School, Jones is also apart of the Pretty In Pink junior sorority.

“I knew I was never like other girls, but I tried my best to fit in until I realized I just had to be Rayven,” she says.

Jones plans to attend Spelman College, Southern University, or Jackson State University to major in biology and pre-med and minor in music. Success to Jones is “setting your goals and reaching them with a plan.” She says that she wants others to see her as a creative and talented young individual black girl and not like everyone else.

Learning from her past mistakes of trying to fit in, Rayven sets herself apart now on a day-to-day basis and represents herself as a leader. She is motivated to push for life goals and keep developing her skills as a leader. She believes leaders should know that creativity and innovation are the life of their organizations.

“Leaders play a very huge role whether the task that they are taking on is big or small,” Jones says. The leaders face special challenges as they try to communicate and interact with their followers and potential followers to understand and know what they think and what they do.”

YMP student Shaddia Lee is in the 11th grade at Murrah High School.