Meet Last Year's Winner!
2020/2021 Youth of the Year Nila Smith: Young Leader and Advocate for Change
"Being able to use my voice to prevent racial injustice, which I have been a witness to and a victim of, caused me to feel I was not a weapon to society, but one of the many voices of the future."
Melissa "Nila" Smith, Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, was just 8 years old when she had her first encounter with racism. A classmate made racial slurs and comments about the color of her skin and texture of her hair. Nila shared, "With me already trying to overcome obstacles of my own while living in a single-parent home, and recently experiencing the loss of my grandfather, her harsh words felt like another reason to grieve." While Nila certainly had reason to grieve, she knew she had a bigger role to play in the fight for racial justice. She was searching for an outlet, a place where she could be herself and find her voice.
The next year, in fourth grade, Nila's life "transformed for the better." It was the year that "opportunities began to flow. It was the year that I joined my Boys & Girls Club," recalled Nila. "When I walked in, I felt an atmosphere I'd never felt before; one that was welcoming, supporting me and my circumstances." Nila was introduced to programs and activities that provided an escape and outlet for expression. She gravitated to creative writing and public speaking opportunities at her Club. Nila said these experiences gave her a platform to speak out about societal inequities and empower other kids and teens do the same.
In an excerpt from her creative writing piece, "True Colors", Nila shares ""The color of my skin is no longer seen as a beautiful feature, but as a weapon to society...the cause of one's anxiety. I can no longer sit silently." She has not stayed silent, but instead has spoken up and is pushing for the change she wants to see.
About her big accomplishment, Nila said, "I yearn to be Youth of the Year, ambassador for the organization that has poured into my life tremendously." Nila remains committed to the push for progress. "My Club gave me the opportunity to serve on a teen empowerment panel and speak about racial tension and racial reconciliation. Being able to use my voice to prevent racial injustice, which I have been a witness to and a victim of, caused me to feel that I was not a weapon to society, but one of the many voices of the future."
The young entrepreneur says nothing can stop her from flourishing, noting aspirations of studying international business in France after graduating high school. She encourages teens to aim high and never let the words of others define their destiny.
"I hold complete power and control over my identity."