Milwaukee student earns prestigious honor with profound message; ‘You have a chance to change’

Daijahnay Canady

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee high school junior has been named the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year for the State of Wisconsin. The honor comes with college scholarship money as well as a platform to speak about important issues.

Daijahnay Canady completed against thousands of other teens in Milwaukee, as well as the entire state to earn the title. It was her firsthand experience as a survivor of sexual assault and journey of self-discovery that impressed so many people.

For most of her childhood, Canady lived with a big secret.

"I was sexually abused at seven, so it was very hard for me to cope with that," Canady said.

She didn't get the help she needed right away.

"I started blaming myself and blaming other people, and I was such an angry, angry child," Canady said.

Two years ago, Canady transferred to St. Joan Antida High School in Milwaukee -- and joined the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee. It was at an event to raise awareness about sexual assault, called Denim Day, when Canady said she had a revelation.

"Don't let your past be an excuse for what you do now, because you have a chance to change," Canady said.

Fast forward to last fall. The #MeToo movement began gaining momentum on social media -- empowering survivors of assault and harassment to share their stories. Canady was also inspired to speak out -- and submitted an application for the 2018 Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year. Her program manager said it is no surprise that Canady won the whole competition.

"To have that national conversation and then to see someone so young telling their story because they know the lives that it will change -- it's so important that she's representing the State of Wisconsin," said Ebony Haynes, program manager at  the Boys & Girls Club.

Now, Canady is doing even more than saying "Me Too." She is creating a program called SPEAK to help others like her find their voice.

"To talk about it, it just lets me know that I'm still here," Canady said.

This summer, Canady will compete at the regional level in hopes of winning the national title of Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year.