Jaden Johnson is not a typical teenager. The nearly-16-year-old sophomore is speaking out about issues at which most girls wince.
After moving to Owensboro two years ago to live with her dad and stepmother, Johnson joined Girls Inc. under the advisement of her stepmother who felt it was a good opportunity for her to learn from other girls.
Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit youth development organization whose mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. With values that aligned to Johnson’s, she jumped right into the program and never looked back.
A member of the Owensboro High School choir and lacrosse team, Johnson said that she is at Girls Inc. as much as her schedule allows. She is a leader among those attending Girls Inc., staff said, which was noticed by program instructors.
“I’ve always been this way,” Johnson said of her openness to advocate for Girls Inc. and for her desire to teach girls to become leaders.
It was those characteristics in Johnson that Girls Inc.’s Rolling Height’s Campus Manager Courtney Calhoun believed would mutually benefit Johnson and Girls Inc. in their national Teen Advocacy Council (TAC). Calhoun gave her the application.
Johnson said that after reviewing the application and talking to her stepmother, she decided this was a great opportunity for her to educate and advocate for girls.
Johnson said that when she was younger, she was a victim of sexual assault and violence and she used her experience as part of the essay application for the advisory council. She has also spoken locally about her experience.
“I get excited to talk about it,” Johnson said.
In early October, Johnson learned that she had been selected as a member of the council — in a year where there were more applicants to the council than previous years.
As an advocate for policy and culture change in order to improve conditions in which girls are growing up, the Teen Advisory Council, which is made up of 12 high school girls nationally and in Canada, meets virtually every quarter with the potential to meet in person during their one-year appointment.
On Oct. 8, Johnson was part of the first FaceTime council conference call. Johnson said that she is the youngest member of the council, but that doesn’t bother her. She is ready to delve into multiple topics, including economic differences, educational opportunities, economic independence, mental health, sexual harassment and violence.
She said she will use the time between the virtual meetings to research the topics and also to support Girls Inc.’s #GirlsToo: Respect Starts Young campaign, an advocacy effort launched in 2018 to bring awareness to the impact of sexual harassment and violence among youth and to create a culture of respect for all young people.
Inspired by other people, Johnson said she wants to help those going through difficult times. She said that her dad is her role model because no matter what she has been through, he has always been there.
“There are good people in the world,” Johnson said. “I want to help and to give back.”
As an advocate for Girls Inc., Johnson said she wants the community to know what a great place it is and how it has helped her learn a multitude of things, including the leadership role she has taken in helping teachers and mentoring other girls.
Johnson has big plans after she “definitely” finishes high school and college, and although she isn’t sure if she wants to be an engineer or a nurse, she knows that taking on leadership roles in her community are beneficial for her future plans, especially as a younger woman.
“I want to show them [colleges] I’m right for it,” Johnson said.
By Marlys Mason, Owensboro Times