This SYI alumna received a full scholarship to the U.S.Air Force Academy; she’s returning to SYI as a junior mentor
by Hal Sullivan
De’Ahnera Manyfield has a mantra: Never say “impossible.”
“Even the word itself,” she explains, “says ‘I’m possible.’”
These words have fueled Manyfield’s success. A Jackson, Miss., native, and a graduate of Jim Hill High School, she attended the William Winter Institute’s Summer Youth Institute (SYI) as a student in 2012. In a growing trend among SYI alumni, she will return this June as a Junior Mentor. In another trend that we aim to grow among SYI participants, she is now attending college–in her case, a full scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Since 2010, the Summer Youth Institute has helped future Mississippi leaders–rising high school sophomores and juniors–find their voices and become advocates for their communities. Manyfield says that SYI helped develop her self-actualization and communication abilities. “SYI forced me to communicate, to talk with people and get outside of my natural comfort zone. I’m not afraid to speak out. I’m not afraid to voice my opinion in order to get the job done. SYI put me in those types of situations.”
The leadership skills she honed while attending SYI, coupled with a natural tendency to view downtime as unacceptable, helped to propel Manyfield to the top one percent of JROTC students in Mississippi. “Not only did SYI show me how to speak my mind,” she says, “but it showed me that not everyone is supporting my side and I have to know how to choose my battles. This lesson of choosing my battles will not only help me in my personal life, but it will make me a successful officer in the military.”
The Winter Institute launched SYI in 2010 to help grow young leaders like De’Ahnera Manyfield. They tend to return to SYI. “One of the greatest pleasures of SYI is having former SYIers join us as Junior Mentors, and eventually as Mentors, at SYI,” writes Melody Frierson, Youth Engagement coordinator at the Institute. “Witnessing their maturation and growth as they mentor those whose shoes they once filled is an awesome experience. We are excited to see how De’Ahnera’s own SYI experience will influence her new role as Junior Mentor.”
While in high school, De’Ahnera was top student in JROTC her freshman and sophomore years, served as the battalion commander, supervised the drill team, participated in student government, numerous sports, and ranked ninth in her graduating class, all while working four different after-school jobs. Multiple colleges took notice, among them West Point Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy. “[SYI] gave me the courage to fill out scholarships that I originally did not think I could get,” she says. She will graduate from the Air Force Academy in 2019, despite it being “ten times harder than high school.”
Also an avid poet, De’Ahnera first shared her writing at SYI, attributing the welcoming, supportive environment as the impetus to open herself up and share an immensely personal aspect of her life with her peers and mentors. Below is her poem “Underneath,” which she’s graciously allowed us to share.
Under my shirt is my skin,
Under my skin is my heart;
A heart held in place by a stern soul
And under that are the streets of the South.
Where lives were taken and no one knew or cared
And under that is fudge brownies fresh out of grandma’s oven
Where passion lies deep under the surface.
Under that is pain from never believing in who others believe you can be.
And under that is the Joy in knowing you have support.
Under that is Rage.
RAGE in knowing that you can’t change the past but you can mold your
present and “their” future.
And under that is PEACE.
Knowing that in the end everything will be worth the while
And under that is LOVE
Where it lies hand in hand with justice
knowing that one day I will make a difference.
And above All!! ALL IS ME!
Hal Sullivan is a senior English and Southern Studies major from Starkville, Miss.