Q&A with the Class of 2022: Jah’niyah Bynum-Jennings, Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA)
Jah'niyah in front of SOTA building

Jah’niyah Bynum-Jennings is inspiring. Her journey has come with mountains of uncertainty to climb, but she's found the strength to persevere – and succeed.

At the Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) campus near downtown Tacoma on a recent sunny day, Jah’niyah ran into some of the many mentors who have helped her along the way.

Fonda Mongrain, a Next Move Internship coach at SOTA, teared up as she told Jah’niyah how proud of her she is.

“I’ve never met a student like you before,” Mongrain said. “Your grit and perseverance are incredible. Yet, you’d never know all you’ve been through. You’re so dedicated.”

Steven Primas, a social worker at SOTA, applauded her growth.

“From self-confidence to knowing what she wants to accepting help to advocating for herself, she’s grown so much these past four years,” he said.

student and teacher in front of painting

Jah’niyah stops for a photo in the halls at SOTA with Social Worker Steven Primas.

Grant Center for the Expressive Arts librarian Judy Chichinksi commended her determination.

“She’s serious about her goals and aspiration,” she said. “She’s risen above so much and not let anything change her goals.”

How did libraries become your safe place?

I grew up in Tacoma, but we moved around a lot. We lived in a hotel for a while. We ended up over in Salishan and I went to First Creek for middle school, but we weren’t there for long.

The librarian at First Creek, Mrs. Chichinski, was my favorite. I didn’t get along with a lot of the students, but I would help her in the library and fix the books, or help people check out books. It was a safe place for me when there were a lot of things happening outside of school.

I hadn’t seen her in years, but then this year I was looking at different places to do my Next Move internship and saw Chichinski now works in the library at the Grant Center for the Expressive Arts. I was like, ‘I’ll stay here.’ I really enjoyed being in the Grant library and helping kids find books. It reminded me of helping my foster siblings.

student holding college flag

Jah’niyah plans to attend Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington.

How has your childhood shaped you?

I have two younger brothers. Since my mom has struggled with her mental health, I had to advocate for me and my brothers to go to school when we were younger. I would make sure we all got up and caught the bus on time so we could go.

My grandparents became foster parents so they could take care of us. They would have different kids staying with us and I would help them get adjusted and feel safe. But then my junior year my grandparents and my brothers moved to North Carolina to be closer to family.

I was adamant I wasn’t going. I had just started to feel better and get to know people at school. It always takes me a while to reach out and make friends, but my favorite thing about SOTA has been the friends I’ve made.

I found a place to live here. Now, I take a bus right after school up to Fife and then work until 9 p.m. most weeknights. I have my forklift certification; I’m really proud of that.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m interested in criminology and social work. I have a Treehouse social worker who I really like. She’s really helped me a lot and so has Steve, the social worker at SOTA. He helped me get clothes and food when I needed it. I want to help people like they’ve helped me.

I’m going to Saint Martin’s University. When I toured the campus, a student told me how she’s a victim’s advocate. I’m also interested in that.

I’m already pretty independent, but I’m looking forward to living on my own and having a car and be able to do more things. I might even foster animals. I’m excited.

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