2019 Graduate: Kaylana Jones
Doing Her Best to Help Inspire Other Young Women
When Kaylana Jones was little, her grandmother Kai Jackson, would drop her off somewhere and then yell out the window, “Take over!”
Jones would yell back, “OK!”
Jones, 18, graduated in June from Kalamazoo Central High School. Her beloved "Nana," Kai Jackson, was a long-time Kalamazoo Public Schools employee who worked at Northeastern and Edison elementary schools and Milwood Magnet School. She passed away in July. Her parents are Kaii Thomas and Charlie Jones.
Jones seems to have taken her grandmother’s advice throughout high school — taking over and taking charge. She was the senior class president, president of the local chapter of ASCEND/ Ivylettes, a group associated with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, winner of a 2019 Young Woman of Achievement Award, and winner of the YWCA 2019 Lewis Walker Social Justice Award. She volunteered with Link Crew, National Honor Society and her church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church — among other things.
“I think it’s way better to be super busy,” Jones said. “I definitely think being in a lot of things, especially when you’re in high school, allows for that great exposure, that great training that will be helpful when you’re older.”
When she looks toward the future, one of the foundational moments that inspires her dreams is from her junior year when she gave a speech on “The Definition of a Black Woman,” an essay that helped her win the local ACT-SO talent competition sponsored by the NAACP. She traveled to Dallas to compete at the national ACT-SO contest.
“When I read it in class, everyone stood up and was clapping,” Jones said. “It made me feel so good. It warmed my heart. I was literally on the verge of tears.”
She’d like to continue working on themes of female empowerment and to start an organization aimed at helping young women develop self-respect and positive self image. She said she worries about younger girls who seem to struggle with the concept of self-respect, especially in today’s world of social media and self-promotion.
“I was working on the Title IX committee at school, and we were digging deep into why there are so many cases where young ladies felt the need to post inappropriate pictures and to do things with young men,” she said. “I think the bottom line is we don’t respect ourselves. Also we don’t know the best way to represent ourselves. We don’t know how deep representation can go.
“You hear it from adults all the time. How you represent yourself on social media will help you get a job. It will help when you want to start a business. It helps when you network. It’s just a very, very big influence.”
She said that sometimes fellow students would say to her they thought she was much older.
“They’d say, ‘You really look like you have it all together. You carry yourself so well,’” Jones said. “I’m like we’re the same age. I’m still trying to get into college.
I’m still trying to figure it out.”
But whether in person or online, she sees a certain responsibility to be her best self — and to share only that best self online.
“People are watching me. I want to keep it up and to allow myself to be an encouragement for other young women.”
Kalamazoo Central Principal Valerie Boggan said Jones knows how to lead and is always respectful of others.
“Kaylana is a powerhouse. She is determined to succeed, and she stands up for what she believes in,” said Boggan, who nominated Jones for the YWCA honor. “She is reflective of seizing the moment and taking advantage of all the opportunities afforded her. She is assertive and is willing to take constructive criticism. When things don’t go as planned, she picks herself up, brushes herself off and continues to forge ahead.”
When she talks about promoting female empowerment, she sees her potential role in some pretty impressive terms, perhaps pursuing public policy and working with leaders such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “She’s so passionate about what she’s doing. She’s young and she’s in Congress. And, I think, wow, we need more women in Congress.”
Is that definitely where she will end up? Maybe. Or maybe she will turn to one of the other dreams she’s had through the years: astronaut, lawyer, teacher.
Where she lands may not be just about her choices, she said. One of the biggest lessons she learned this year is to trust in God.
“I was always worrying about what I want to do next,” she said. “Trusting in God allowed me to be open to different possibilities. I definitely want to work with people. I want to have real conversations with people, whatever field of work will allow me to do that. I want to be a voice for them.”