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Amazing Teens 2020

Photo courtesy Skye McKey

Photo courtesy Skye McKey

While COVID-19 has forced school closures, the Jackson Free Press is still recognizing some of the rising stars of the Jackson metro through our annual Amazing Teens issue. These students have exhibited remarkable talent, community service and character throughout their high-school careers. We honor these young men and women and know that they will continue to make Jackson proud as they navigate the future and continue to be upstanding individuals.

Amauri Quick-Collins

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Photo courtesy Amauri Quick-Collins

Starting point guard for Jim Hill High School’s basketball team, Amauri Quick-Collins credits the game for steering her life onto its current track.

“I started to get into a little trouble in sixth grade, and I was pushed towards basketball. It ended up being something really helped me and changed my life,” Quick-Collins says.

Now a sophomore, Quick-Collins recently scored 29 points, a record high, during the Elite, a competition of eight different teams.

“(The scoring feat) meant a lot because we already lost to this specific team twice, and I really wanted to step up and do my best for my team,” Quick-Collins says. “My team is like my family. We are all definitely doing (our part) for each other.”

The 16-year-old also runs track and cross country and says that sports, especially basketball, have given her something to look forward to and strive for and have helped her become a better leader and a better communicator while also improving her patience.

Quick-Collins expresses gratitude for her parents, particularly her father, for always pushing her and supporting her in sports and her other pursuits and for being her biggest fans throughout everything.

In the future, the high schooler hopes to play college basketball, but if that doesn’t happen, she plans to pursue a degree in the medical field all the same. —Sarah Kate Pollard

Courtni Sutton

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Photo courtesy Courtni Sutton

Courtni Sutton, a senior at Forest Hill High School, engages in a variety of extracurricular activities. In addition to memberships in her school’s art, math, foreign language and Beta clubs, she serves as director of her school’s student choir and captain of its cheer team. Her classmates have also named her both student body president and homecoming queen.

Her positive relationships with her fellow students may stem from her self-described “goofy” personality, which she uses to uplift others.

“When I know someone’s down, I will always try to go out of my way to make them feel better,” Sutton says.

Being on the cheer team led her to be less reserved and come out of her shell, she says: “(Cheerleading) has helped me become the person and leader I am today by practicing hard work, patience and being able to communicate well with my team.”

Outside of school, Sutton serves her community as a member of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Alongside other members of her church, she volunteers at the Cottage Grove nursing home and works its summer feeding program, for which she helps feed homeless people at Smith Park, Poindexter Park and through Stewpot. She says that volunteering makes her grateful for her blessings and keeps her in the mindset of always giving back.

An honor-roll student in the top five of her class’ academic rankings, Sutton thanks her parents and sisters for supporting her and appreciates her teacher, Rigel Robinson, for going out of his way to make sure she excels.

Going forward, Sutton plans to attend Jackson State University and major in elementary education. —Sarah Kate Pollard

Danely Saraí Almanza

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Photo courtesy Danely Saraí Almanza

Ridgeland High School senior Danely Saraí Almanza spends her time assisting others however she can both in school and at home.

The 19-year-old participates in her school’s mentoring program, where she is assigned to an elementary student, whom she helps with schoolwork and other issues that may arise. She is also a member of the volunteer club, which organizes various projects to help the community, such as decorating for trick-or-treaters or cleaning up children’s centers.

“I felt like (volunteer club) was a better way for me to be around other students. Also, I feel like that’s where I fit in most. I like being helpful,” she says.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, in addition to juggling her schoolwork and taking care of her younger sister, Almanza has been further assisting her parents with their family restaurant, Mi Mexico Lindo, as a waitress and the family bakery, Princess Cakes, as a cashier. Both are on Old Canton Road in Ridgeland.

Regarding her future, Almanza is presently deliberating between where she would like to be an elementary-school teacher or venture into cosmetology, in which she has an existing interest.

As a DACA recipient, she says she feels encouraged to strive for and accomplish her dreams. Almanza credits her parents for being her inspiration for wanting to achieve her goals—citing them as the most hard-working people she has ever known and thanking them for doing their most to show her how to work for herself and keep pushing. She says she is very proud of her Mexican heritage and plans to continue to carry her roots with her as she progresses through life. —Nate Schumann

Jaden Coleman

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Photo courtesy Jaden Coleman

High school senior Jaden Coleman is a go-getter on and off the field. As the captain of the football team at St. Joseph Catholic School, he plays in the line on both offense and defense, and he held positions at first base and as designated hitter for the baseball team. Meanwhile, his academic performance has helped him earn memberships with the National Honor Society, Rho Kappa Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Honor Society and the National Latin Honor Society.

Coleman attributes his accomplishments to his school. “It feels like a family at St. Joe’s. I get a top-of-the-line education, and I’m also allowed to learn about God and deepen my faith,” he says.

An active member of New Hope Baptist Church, Coleman helps with teaching children’s Sunday school.

“I want to teach them how to be better Christians,” he says.

Among his favorite recreational activities are tennis and traveling. He plays tennis for the joy of the game and has already visited several countries in the Caribbean and in Europe.

“I love seeing different places, new people and different cultures,” he adds.

In the fall, Coleman will begin a new chapter in his life as he enrolls in Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, La. A number of his family members attended Southern, and Coleman was impressed by the school’s academic curriculum. He will study pre-med with the goal of becoming an anesthesiologist and plans to take courses at the university over the summer to get a jump-start on his postsecondary education.

Coleman lives in Madison with his parents, Roderick, a pediatric dentist, and Robin, a nurse practitioner, along with his younger sister, London. —Richard Coupe

Kelvin Gardner

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Photo courtesy Kelvin Gardner

Kelvin Gardner, an 18-year-old senior at Provine High School, has been studying photodynamic cancer therapy at Millsaps College since 10th grade. The treatment involves exposing compounds such as nitrogen oxide to ultraviolet light in order to activate the compound to destroy cancer cells.

Garner says he became interested in studying cancer treatment as a child because a teacher at his elementary school and several family members were struggling with cancer. Omega Hart, Garner’s chemistry teacher at Provine, recommended Garner to a cancer-treatment program at Millsaps that chemistry professor Wolfgang Kramear leads.

“Mr. Hart saw that I was excelling in his class even though we aren’t able to have a lot of lab time at Provine,” Garner says. “Studying at Millsaps gives me the chance to spend several months each summer learning the basics of cancer therapies and doing lab work like I wanted.”

After graduating from Provine, Garner plans to enroll at Millsaps and major in biomedical engineering. He also wants to play as a goalkeeper for the Millsaps soccer team while pursuing his degree.

Garner is a member of the youth council for the Mississippi branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, whose members go to local schools and community organizations to help teens and adults with mental illness. He is an usher at his church, Hill of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bolton, Miss.

His mother is Christiane Williams, and his sister Keleah Gardner, 21, lives in Texas. —Dustin Cardon

Luke Mason

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Photo courtesy Luke Mason

“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight,” so says the Scout Oath.

Luke Carter Mason, an Eagle Scout, endeavors to embody that motto each day. For his final project to earn the rank, he cleaned and organized the children’s minister’s office at his church, Wells United Methodist Church, shortly before COVID-19 shut down public gatherings.

“They always had problems with people leaving random things in the office, so it just turned into a junk pile. They also had an issue with people coming and taking things out,” he says. “Giving this designated space to the children’s minister was important.”

An active member of his church, the 17-year-old serves on the Administrative Council as the youth representative, where he “(goes) to meetings and give(s) them the 411 on what’s going on with the youth,” Mason says.

The Germantown High School senior ran cross country, played trumpet in the school’s band for both the marching and concert seasons and is a member of the National Honor Society. “(Germantown has) tons of resources, and the teachers are really good,” he says.

In the fall, Mason will attend Rhodes College in Memphis, where he will run cross country and serve in the school’s ROTC program. With the goal of becoming a lawyer, he plans to major in political science. Mason lives in Madison with his parents, James and Erin, and his younger brother, Noah. —Richard Coupe

Mary Noble Howard

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Mary Noble Howard Photo by Mark Hinkle

For Mary Noble Howard, art functions as much more than a pastime. The Jackson Preparatory School senior uses art to improve her own mental health.

“Art is my everything. I deal a lot with anxiety, and at a young age I realized that art was the best outlet for (coping with) that. It’s my passion,” she says.

For two years in a row, Howard has won Project Rez, an art competition that Keep the Rez Beautiful hosts for which participants create artworks from recycled materials with the goal of motivating people to keep the reservoir clean.

In 2018, she constructed a dress made from leftover extra copies of her school’s junior-high literary magazine, Mindprints. “The idea behind it was that we wear our words. Everything we say and put out there and everything we do becomes part of who we are and how people see us,” Howard says.

The following year, she crafted another dress, this time made from discarded receipts, with a theme of consumerism.

Other accomplishments include being included in Portico Magazine’s “25 Most Likely Students to Change the World,” receiving two gold keys and a silver key in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, having had artworks displayed at the Mississippi Museum of Art and recently earning the Miss Jackson Prep title.

Presently, Howard is working on her A.P. art portfolio, which she is using to present a timeline of her life through her works. Each piece of the puzzle features a red dot someplace to represent the 18-year-old at different points in her life.

This fall, Howard will enter Millsaps College to study art. “I like the unknown of not knowing where God’s going to put me in life, but a huge part of (my future) will be trying to use my art for positive things and spreading God’s word,” she says. “The biggest dream I would have is owning my own business, and maybe doing sculptures for hotel lobbies or big businesses.” —Jenna Gibson

Natalie Turner

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Natalie Turner Photo by Jessica W. Holmes

Jackson Academy sophomore Natalie Turner has an affinity for storytelling. She serves as the editor of her school’s creative writing magazine, Images, and has already won an honorable mention in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her short story, “The Woman in the Woods,” a fantasy tale about a traveler who stays at an old woman’s home but learns that the host has an eventually revealed darker side.

“Like most writers, I started out as an avid reader, and I discovered that there was much more to reading and storytelling than it being entertaining. A lot of times I would finish a book, and I would realize that I’ve learned something,” Turner says. “I think it’s a wonderful tool to help people be in situations that they never would have thought of, and it helps expand peoples’ compassion and worldview of others.”

The 16-year-old is currently working on writing more short stories, both in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

“The idea of sci-fi is to make you think about things and to have a conversation about a topic that would normally make you uncomfortable—in a form that isn’t uncomfortable,” she says. “When you leave the book and finish it, you’ve left this deep conversation to help you realize what your opinions are and what you think about the world.”

Beyond writing, Turner enjoys drawing and painting and takes oil painting classes with Bob Tompkins, a local master of the art.

In the future, she hopes to attend an animation school and pursue a career working for an animation company and telling her own stories. —Jenna Gibson

Phoebe Xu

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Photo courtesy Phoebe Xu

In addition to being a National Merit Finalist and an A.P. Scholar, high school senior Phoebe Xu has held leadership positions in her chosen extracurriculars.

“Having the mentality of ‘As long as you work hard, it will pay off’ has really been driven into me. I need to do my best. Being able to work hard is a lifelong lesson that I will always carry with me in any situation that I’m in,” Xu says.

The 18-year-old attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and serves as captain of its women’s soccer team, which won the State Championships this year. She started playing soccer in fourth grade and has since been voted Best Offensive Player during her 8th through 10th grade years, was named to the Clarion-Ledger All-State Girls Soccer Team as a junior and this year competed as a member of a traveling team.

“Being able to be on these teams has really helped me grow as a player and as a person, because I know I can always depend on (my teammates), and I’ve gotten a family in every single team I’ve played with,” Xu says.

At school, Xu leads a chapter of The Period Movement, a nationwide group that sends feminine-hygiene products to places like homeless shelters and prisons. Her chapter has recently raised over $300 to send supplies to people during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’ve worked to increase awareness about period poverty, because there’s so much inequality there,” she says. “Not everyone can afford to go buy a couple products every month. One of the main things that our group is working on is getting rid of the tampon tax in every state. I think it’s really important because every woman has a period, and women shouldn’t be held back because they can’t have clean sanitation.”

Xu aspires to become a doctor. “I want to help those around me the best way I can,” she says. —Jenna Gibson

Shakerra Bolton

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Photo courtesy Shakerra Bolton

Shakerra Bolton, a 17-year-old junior at Lanier High School, has joined her school’s choir, the National Honor Society and the Ladybug Club all in the past year.

Bolton has been a singer since age 5 and is also the youth-choir director at her church, Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson.

Since joining the National Honor Society in 2019, Bolton has been performing community service throughout Jackson and also helps Jackson Public Schools students in grades below hers with subjects such as college readiness.

The Ladybug Club is a mentoring organization that teaches Jackson young people to improve their social skills. With the program, Bolton assists young adults in her community with voter registration and helps to distribute food to local children in need. She also participates in a program that gives away free prom dresses to students who cannot afford their own.

After graduating, Bolton plans to attend either Mississippi State University or the University of Southern Mississippi and major in business administration and the performing arts.

“I’ve always felt like singing is my strongest form of expression,” Bolton says. “My goal is to one day open up my own performing arts school and teach children about singing, dancing and other forms of expression. I want to be able to give them opportunities they might not have had otherwise and help them discover what they want to do in the world. ”

Bolton lives with her mother, Felicia Bolton, her father, Eddie Williamson, and her sister, Sinithea Bolton. —Dustin Cardon

Skye McKey

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Photo courtesy Skye McKey

Wingfield High School sophomore Skye McKey is no stranger to volunteerism. The Capital Area Sunset Rotary Club recently recognized her community-service efforts by bestowing her with the Rotary Youth Leadership Award. The organization selects nominees for this honor who demonstrate leadership skills and offer their own time to give back to the community, as to exemplify the Rotary Club’s motto, “Service before self.”

McKey’s acts of service include volunteering with the annual Mississippi Book Festival, packing lunches for people in need within her community, and collecting trash and otherwise cleaning up local areas.

With the Rotary Club, she also builds food packages for people in need from areas like Africa, Haiti and more.

“(The award) really shows that I am trying to make a change every day and that I can make a difference in my community,” McKey says.

Beyond volunteerism, McKey models with Elite Modeling Squad and will be on her school’s cheerleading team beginning next school year. Her favorite school subject is English, and she has an interest in attending Spelman College in Atlanta—with one of her main goals being to eventually be able to travel to and volunteer in different countries around the world.

McKey thanks her mother and her aunt for always encouraging her to make good choices and to continue to assist her community and others at large. —Sarah Kate Pollard

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