Meet the high school volleyball player with a 3.5 GPA – and a baby

Photo: Mykal McEldowney, Indianapolis Star

Meet the high school volleyball player with a 3.5 GPA – and a baby

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Meet the high school volleyball player with a 3.5 GPA – and a baby

De’Janae Simpson flits around the hundreds of folks gathered at Eagle Church in Whitestown with nervous energy. It’s not the first time this 17-year-old has addressed so many people, but she wants to appear polished, mature, successful.

She’s also worried that her 4-1/2-month-old daughter, Za’Nyla, might spit up on her outfit.

“She always gets me at the worst times,” De’Janae said last month, after greeting me with a hug and a smile.

That smile. It’s always there. But if you look beyond it, just around the edges, you’ll see all the pain and suffering De’Janae has experienced in her short life. You’ll see the fear and uncertainty. But there’s also determination and strength. There’s a blossoming young woman who appears capable of taking on whatever comes her way.

I closely watch the faces in the room as De’Janae speaks from the auditorium’s stage at Eagle Church. It was important for me to see how open these white, mostly well-to-do, church-going folks would be to a vulnerable African-American teen as she bared her soul and shared her secrets. The crowd seemed enthralled by De’Janae, listening intently, nodding encouragingly, smiling.

When she was finished speaking, they gave her a standing ovation.

See, De’Janae’s has a spirit unlike most 17-year-olds I’ve met. She can work a room like a poised politician. She’s often tapped to educate business and elected officials, including Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, about charter schools and her nonprofit lifelines, Central Indiana Youth For Christ and Parent Life.

She is an athlete. She is an ambassador for her high school. She is a motivational speaker. She is an accomplished student. She is deeply religious.

And she is a teen mother.

I want to take you on a journey. De’Janae’s journey. I have spent the last year following De’Janae and chronicling her life as she coped with the realities of pregnancy, from her changing body to raging hormones to her inability to follow doctors’ orders to take vitamins and make nutritious meal choices.

I’ve been with De’Janae through doctor’s appointments, high school registration, home-nurse visits, college visits, Parent Life meetings, hospital emergencies and time at home with family.

De’Janae is a senior at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School. She attended Ben Davis High School her junior year, but transferred to Indy Met because she liked the intimate atmosphere and felt the smaller school would be more conducive to her life as a mother.

This school year, she spoke to Hogsett about the importance of the renewal of charter schools, and to a group of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana employees and executives about the quality of her education. Her principal selected her, as an outstanding senior, to make the presentation.

I’ve watched as De’Janae has learned to balance the demands of new motherhood while going to school, playing volleyball and struggling with the deep challenges of her home life.

De’Janae’s mother is HIV positive. Her father is a drug addict and absent from her life. Her family has been homeless. Many nights they struggle to have enough food on the table.

De’Janae is a senior at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School. She attended Ben Davis High School her junior year, but transferred to Indy Met because she liked the intimate atmosphere and felt the smaller school would be more conducive to her life as a mother.

This school year, she spoke to Hogsett about the importance of the renewal of charter schools, and to a group of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana employees and executives about the quality of her education. Her principal selected her, as an outstanding senior, to make the presentation.

I’ve watched as De’Janae has learned to balance the demands of new motherhood while going to school, playing volleyball and struggling with the deep challenges of her home life.

De’Janae’s mother is HIV positive. Her father is a drug addict and absent from her life. Her family has been homeless. Many nights they struggle to have enough food on the table.

For De’Janae’s full story, visit the Indianapolis Star

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