'I figured out that women could do anything they set their mind to'

'I figured out that women could do anything they set their mind to'

CHAMPAIGN — Don't tell Jayden Wilson that there's something she can't do.

But if you do, the Champaign Central High School sophomore won't believe you anyway.

"My story is just how I figured out that women could do anything they set their mind to do without the help of a man," she said. "They can do it because we can do everything."

Wilson would know, having grown up watching her mom raise three kids, put herself through school and help build the family's house.

"I think it was kind of, growing up, having my mom do everything was considered normal," she said. "When people would say their dad this, their dad did that, that was against my norm."

This is part of the story Wilson will be sharing at the Douglass Community Center on Sunday, the last day of "That's What Teens Say," a three-day workshop put on by two local organizations that promote women's and girls' empowerment. Fifteen girls from 11 area schools were selected after being nominated for the unique event, a joint effort of That's What She Said and Be the Benchmark.

After two days of training, Wilson and the 14 others will tell their stories to an audience at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Is she nervous?

"Yeah, kinda," Wilson said. "I don't really know how I would portray my message with just one person. I feel like there will be challenges."

Still, she's up for them. She's the daughter of Arica Moss, after all.

"I want to just try to encourage my kids to do the best that they can with what they have," said Wilson's proud mom. "Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, you do your best. I didn't get married thinking I would raise three kids by myself, but I did it."

Because her parents divorced early, Wilson said she didn't have many male figures in her life until fourth grade, when her teacher was a man. Her mother remembers the year as a time when Wilson struggled with doing what he said, an anomaly from the things she was used to hearing from her daughter's teachers.

"We prayed about it," Moss said. "I prayed with her together about it. I prayed about her relationship with her dad.

"That next year, she got another male teacher. She said, 'I don't want a male teacher.' I said, 'You apparently needed another male teacher.' It actually turned out to be really good."

* * *

Shortly after that, Wilson started playing basketball — although she said she didn't start taking the sport seriously until a year later, as a sixth-grader. By design, Moss knew that coaches tended to be male, and she believed the exposure would be good for her daughter. She may have gotten a little more than she bargained for, she said.

"Basketball is their first love," Moss said.

She wanted her children — of which Wilson is the youngest — to stay busy. So, in the off-seasons, she enrolled them in travel basketball.

It was expensive but worth it, she said.

"You keep them productive, it will keep them out of trouble," she said. "I don't live in the best area, but I don't live in the worst, and through travel basketball, we've been able to travel to different states for tournaments and meet new people. It's been a great experience."

Wilson now plays for Central's Maroons. While she loves the sport, she said it has enlightened her to ingrained gender stereotypes.

"There was this thing on Snapchat, this boy, and he had posted that women's basketball is not entertaining, that it was boring because we can't dunk," Wilson said. "He thinks that boys' basketball is more superior because they can dunk due to their height. That took it back to the 1950s, where men were superior to women."

Wilson, of course, shot back. And it doesn't deter her athletic goals to know that some people think that way, she said.

Her plan is to play basketball or run track beyond high school. And if that doesn't work out, she has backup plans.

"If I don't make it athletically, I want to either be a physical therapist or help elders," Wilson said. "I have been in physical therapy for many different injuries, and every time I'm in there, I see an elderly person just getting help, and it just warms my heart."

* * *

Growing up, Wilson watched her mother pursue education to be a social worker, which is why she's confident she can accomplish any of her own goals.

"Watching my mom juggle work and three kids and going to school, it opened my mind to know that even if you feel like you can't do much, you can still get it accomplished," she said. "Even if you don't achieve your dream right away, you can still get it done."

Although there were three children in Moss' household, she said she never gave up on getting an education and bettering the entire family despite the divorce.

"Because there is no father figure in the house, I have told my kids: I understand your dad's not here, but we still got to do what we got to do," Moss said. "They used to cry for a whole year that they wanted their dad, and I was crying, too. I did not give them the opportunity to use that as a crutch.

"My kids have seen me overcome so many obstacles. I got my associate's when they were young. I got my bachelor's when they were older, and I'm working on my master's right now. I don't let what someone else don't do influence me being able to work on my dreams."

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