When Lakota youth, Janay, tagged her basketball with the words “I wish all the sad kids can feel what I feel when I pick this up - There Is Hope,” she never imagined President Barack Obama would one day put his autograph on that same basketball to show his support for her inspiring words. While the challenges faced by youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation are many, there are also many young people, like Janay, with bright visions for the future. And during her visit to The White House as a Gen-I youth ambassador, her leadership on and off the basketball court shined bright as an example of our youth making their vision for the future into reality.
With an astounding 50% of the population on Pine Ridge being under the age of 18, Janay is part of a generation that is going to inevitably change the landscape of the reservation forever. However, drastically high rates of suicide among Lakota youth means that nearly every young person has had their life impacted by the pain of suicide. Janay Jumping Eagle believes, "There Is Hope" is a powerful message, one youth like herself need to hear. "There is hope" is an action phrase, the energy behind it rooted in the resiliency of Lakota people. And although only in her teens, Janay has not waited to take action on fighting suicide in our communities.
As part of the Thunder Valley Youth Leadership Development Program Janay Jumping Eagle worked alongside her program peers to brainstorm ways to combat suicide by creating safe activities for youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The program participants designed, planned, and implemented every event down to the very last detail, resulting in everything from a mud volleyball tournament to a glow run. The program participants also learned to grow food together in the Community Garden, where they experienced how the frustration of weeding pays off with the satisfaction of harvesting –– a satisfaction that was magnified when the participants where able to give out nearly a thousand pounds of their harvest to tribal elders, families and kids.
Janay's contributions to the community didn't stop after the Youth Leadership Development Program ended. Instead, with the help of her family and community, Janay organized a holiday event, giving away over 350 presents to local kids and feeding a hearty meal to the community. Janay said, “ I know in my heart that the kids were happy and had a good time, and that’s all that matters to me.”
Janay also helped organize the #ThereIsHope Weekend, a basketball tournament that also consists of breakout sessions for talking about and learning how to cope with and prevent suicide, in addition prizes, artist performances and more. Through her generosity and ability to bring people together, Janay shows us how leadership and collaboration can create an impact. She shows what we can accomplish when we do things together, what we can do when we have support for one another.
Janay is looking forward to the next #ThereIsHope Suicide Prevention Weekend this April 8th-10th in Kyle, SD. To help support this event you can donate at: Janay wants all youth and families to know when they leave there that There Is Hope. Thunder Valley CDC believes that Janay Jumping Eagle and the many talented youth of our Lakota Nation inspire hope for the world. Indeed, they are what inspire us the most.