This article first appeared in The Antioch Chronicle.
Antioch is home to some outstanding people – the bustling suburban community is responsible for producing a myriad of successful folks, from So You Think You Can Dance’s Ashley Rich, to American Idol’s Briana Oakley, as well as the director of the wildly popular Sharknado franchise, Anthony C. Ferrante.
Claryssa Wilson, a sophomore from Antioch High School, is undoubtedly the next person to be added to this exclusive roster –as a multi-faceted athlete with a 4.2 GPA, Sophomore Class President and a passion for purposeful community service, Wilson is setting her own goals, and reaching them.
“I’m trying to get out in the community, as well as let people know that yes, I’m an African-American female, yes, I do maintain honor roll, yes, I am planning on going to college, yes, I am planning on doing something productive with my life. I’m trying to change that stigma […] – I’ve always felt that it was important to stay focused in school and on my education; […] It hasn’t let me settle for the average. That’s kind of where I get my energy to be so involved. I want to be someone who perseveres through life,” said Wilson.
A native of Sacramento, CA, Wilson is a middle child who has learned the art of perseverance and patience – in 2009, Wilson’s family experienced some economic hardship, which resulted in a move to St. Louis, Missouri.
Wilson describes her time in the south as less than stellar, but educational:
“It was horrible — I experienced bullying for the first time, and it never ended until we left, finally. [However] I learned a lot about myself actually – I learned a lot of patience and that kind of boosted
my confidence a little bit,” explained Wilson.
Wilson’s time in Missouri served as a positive directive for herself upon her return to California in 2011. Having been exposed to community service at a young age, her adolescent years gave Wilson the opportunity to expand her interest in serving others.
“My mom exposed me to giveaways, like giving away to the homeless, food giveaways – around 5 years old. […] It became a really normal thing. Then, all of a sudden, she would ask me if I wanted to go [volunteer], and started giving me a choice. She started asking me, ‘Why do you like to do this? Why do you like to volunteer?’ and it was then I started deeply understanding the importance of giving back. I started to really like it and enjoy it, and I started getting confused [about] why there wasn’t other people my age doing the same thing,” said Wilson.
With community service set as a staple in Wilson’s life, her mother, Velma, suggested her entrance into the world of pageants, which has become a fruitful journey. In late October, Wilson was named third runner up in the Miss California High School America Pageant, as the first ever representative from Contra Costa County. Wilson walked away with special recognition for Best Interview and Director’s Pick, and she was also the only contestant of African-American descent.
“I’ve always had the mindset: it doesn’t matter if you win, it always matters what you leave behind and the mark you leave on the judges. […] I don’t take away the outcome of the scoring, I take away the experience and the impact I’ve left on some people. [It’s like] You’ve kind of left a mark on someone’s mentality, they think of things differently,” said Wilson.
Even at just fifteen years old, Wilson possesses a self-awareness not commonly found in other youth her age. Not only is she passionate about community service, she also makes it a point to be exemplary. With over 1600 hours performed, Wilson’s platform focuses on youth involvement in the community.
“My ultimate goal is to have a group of like-minded youth to carry on other positive, impactful things in the community. […] I feel like we are the future leaders of the community, and we need to step up and let our voices be heard. We have so much to say, but we never know who to say it to. […] We have so much [more] power than we think we do, and we can change a bad situation into a good situation, just with our voices and getting out in our community,” explained Wilson.
As the youth ambassador for the Ivancich, Martin & Costis Youth Foundation, Wilson launched her own school supply giveaway in Antioch that serviced around 3,000 students with backpacks, notebooks, writing utensils, and more for the start of the school year. In addition to continuing this project and making it a staple in the community, she is currently working on getting her middle school – Orchard Park in Oakley, CA – a gym, which the school was built without.
Between her work in the community and her academics, Wilson also plays basketball and volleyball, making her an expert at balancing a full plate. Drawing on her cumulative experiences, she demonstrates maturity and self-confidence with ease. Now currently in the midst of her sophomore year, Wilson has begun thinking about college, with her sights on possible attendance at UCLA, Howard University, or George Washington University. She is planning on a major in psychology, and a career as both a model and a youth mentor.
When asked to describe herself in one word, Wilson says that she is determined.
“Everything that I’ve been through in my life – I’ve always pushed through. I was determined to make honor roll, I was determined to make it through the day, I am always determined,” said Wilson.
Ironically enough, determined is a characteristic Wilson has possessed since birth. Born premature, Wilson’s mother entered labor at just 33 weeks – which meant that then infant’s lungs were not fully developed. While in the NICU visiting before a hospital transfer, Wilson’s mother was able to touch her – at her mother’s touch, Wilson began to regurgitate, allowing her lungs to clear. Known as the “determined” baby amongst medical staff, nurses committed to 24/7 care for Wilson, instead of the prior plan for a hospital transfer.
Today, Wilson is thriving — she was recently named Miss Black California USA Talented Teen 2017 in a unanimous panel decision. She will go on to compete for the national title in June of 2017 in Washington D.C.
By JáNae Powell
The Antioch Chronicle