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What's been your greatest struggle?

Story by Heartland Alliance September 16th, 2014


Journee’s young life has been no walk in the park. Before even reaching her teenage years, the bright young girl endured the death of both of her grandparents, an aunt and an uncle. With their death went the family home and she, her two sisters, and her mom Anita became homeless, sleeping in the car and bathing at relatives’ houses. Those were not the best days of her life, but it’s fitting that a girl with the name Journee used them in her favor. She studied wherever and whenever she could, aced her tests and earned extra credit. That year, Journee was valedictorian, but her classmates mocked her for her success, not knowing how much she’d overcome to achieve it.

“They said I didn’t deserve to be valedictorian, they said I should fail. They talked about me and mocked me,” Journee said of that year. “The hardest part was not getting influenced to do the wrong things.”



Now that her mom Anita has found a safe, stable home through Heartland Alliance, however, Journee says her focus has shifted. Or should we say, it’s widened.

“This year I’m just focusing on maintaining my GPA. And I got on the basketball team again this year, so I want to do good there. And my dance troupe. Oh and I’m launching my t-shirt line. You know, in my spare time.”


refusing to fail

Just hearing her laundry list of activities is exhausting, but Journee is unfazed. She is capable and driven – the kind of young woman who can maintain a 4.0 GPA, pursue two sports and find spare time to start a business. As she describes her investigation into clothing distribution channels for the t-shirt line she’s launching, it’s clear she’s chosen the right name for it – Self Made Royalty. She doesn’t accept failure. It seems it’s a family trait.

“My goal for my children is for them to go to college,” Anita’s eyes snap to Journee. She’ll be the first in the family to go. And it’s clear that she will be going.

“And my goal is to be sure they’re well taken care of and to keep a roof over their heads. They’re what I’m most proud of.”


little sisters

Today, the school year has barely begun, but Journee’s mind is focused squarely on the prize – another straight A year – as she and her sisters go off to school with the backpacks and school supplies from Heartland Alliance to ensure they’re starting off on the right foot. It’s her youngest sister Jakai, though, now entering first grade, that’s got the most to say about that.

“I want the pink one!! I want to trade!!! Pink is my favorite color!!! The pink oooooone!!!” she says, jumping around the room, pointing at the pink backpack. Journee is patient with her, distracting her from her pink panic by playing her favorite song.

“Calm down, I’ll show you how to do this dance,” she promises. Journee’s a dancer after all. One of her many talents. Of course she has plans for that summer afternoon, as all teenage girls do, but if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that you make time for what’s important – your family, your education, the things that make you happy. Right now, it’s dancing with her little sister. Later she’ll find time to practice for her own dance troupe, work with her sister Janiya on a story they’re writing, keep up with her designs for Self Made Royalty and investigate Alabama AMA and UCLA (colleges she’s considering). She doesn’t worry about it too much, though. She’ll get it done. She always does - with time to spare.
Footnote: Photography by Allyson Stewart, Story by Melissa Spear
Chicago, IL, United States
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