It has been quite the journey for our Club member, Tiana Jackson! Named the 2020 Youth of the Year for Union League Boys & Girls Clubs, she went on to win the state title at the Illinois Youth of the Year Competition as well. “To me it means breaking boundaries in terms of myself and in terms of my Club, and just being one hundred percent myself,”. She continued, “I went into the competition representing what I believe and who I am, one-thousand percent, and I’m glad I was able to come out successful on that, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity”.

Tiana waving to supporters driving past during the “Safety-First Car Parade”

This year’s State competition was much different from those in year’s past. Tiana competed virtually, passionately delivering her speech and answering interview questions before a panel of judges. All of us at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs – staff, Trustees, and supporters – awaited anxiously to find out the results of the competition, which was streamed over Facebook. Once the results were in and Tiana was announced the winner, we could hardly contain our excitement! This was the first time in the 73 year history of the Youth of the Year Ceremony that one of our Club members won the state title.

We were hardly surprised that Tiana impressed the judges, just as she has always done so with us. She wowed all of her mentors while preparing for the Youth of the Year competition, and has an impressive list of extracurricular activities at her school – including serving as the student body president. She is also very active at Barreto Club and participated in our SMART Girls, Keystone and Torch Club programming. Barreto Club Director, Jeremy Murphy, said it best, “Tiana is wonderful and she embodies everything you want in a state youth of the year and national youth of the year”. 

In her powerful speech, Tiana addressed the struggles she faced being bullied, noting how it remains her motivating factor, “…if I had their attention, why not use it to do something valuable?”. She continued, “…I’ve learned that we can’t do things alone. If Barreto [Club] has taught me anything, it is that the world has so much to offer me, but I also have so much to show the world. Life is not one sided….I will be the voice that pushes them [America’s youth] forward, a shoulder to lean on when life decides to take a little more than expected. Because that is what my Club has taught me…”.

Decorated cars and signs at the “Safety-First Car Parade” for Tiana.

Since her amazing win at the state competition, we have not slowed down in celebrating Tiana. Just one week after her win, staff, trustees, and supporters showed their support by surprising her with a “Safety-First” Car Parade, as we could not celebrate her in person. Tiana even received recognition and support from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, who recorded a special video commending her for her achievements and continued leadership. Pritzker stated, “more than ever, Illinois needs strong leaders who set a great example, like you. You give me great confidence in the next generation of young leaders”.

We could not have said it better ourselves. We are extremely appreciative of the Governor’s touching tribute to an outstanding Club member, who now joins the ranks of our many alum. Scroll down to watch Governor Pritzker’s tribute to Tiana.