Take a stroll through Sunnyside High’s campus and you’re sure to find Jammy Harris and her million-dollar smile.
“She’s got a smile that lights up the room,” Sunnyside teacher Tasha Hicks said. “And then when you find out that there are all [these] reasons that the smile couldn’t have been there, it makes it all that more precious.”
Jammy lacked stability throughout her childhood. Her mother battled with schizophrenia, which left her father as the sole caretaker.
“My daddy was somebody I looked up to,” she said. “He always used to compliment me about everything I did because he was like, ‘You’re a beautiful black-skinned child.’ He loved me. He always wrapped his arms around me.”
But on Feb. 6, 2012, Jammy lost the most important person in her life when her father, James Earl Harris Sr., passed away. She was 9.
“It was my breaking point,” Jammy said. “After he was gone, that was when all the hardships came in. And the crying. And the tears. And a lot of hurt.”
With her mother unable to care for her, Jammy and her little brother moved into foster care. By the time she arrived at Sunnyside High as a freshman, she was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“Jammy came in dealing with a whole lot of things that most 14-year-olds and lots of adults have never had to deal with,” Hicks said. “And so she was really trying to just find herself.” In time, Jammy found the right group of friends and she became involved with a number of clubs on campus. She currently holds a 3.6 GPA while taking honors and advanced placement courses.
“I’ve been teaching 16 years and I’ve had a ton of incredible kids. I really have,” Hicks said. “But Jammy is one of a kind. She really is. Somehow, through all the things this child has endured, she has learned that failure is never final, that a small defeat is not going to be the thing that destroys you. She bounces back like most kids I’ve never seen.”
Sunnyside High teacher Uziel Jimenez said he’s impressed with the way Jammy has found success in spite of her tough upbringing. “She’s assured of her success because she’s had to live life in the face of certain failure, I guess is the best way I can put that,” Jimenez said. “So if you’re already expecting possible disappointment in your life, then you know how to navigate through it, how to persevere through it, how to advocate for yourself, in that sense.”
Jammy will return for her senior year at Sunnyside High in the fall. After high school, she hopes to attend one of the historically black colleges or universities. Although she has lost both her father and, more recently, her mother, Jammy feels immense pride over her accomplishments.
“People always ask me questions,” she said. “‘How do you do it?’ I tell my story so people know that the struggle is real. I am proud of myself and I just want to be able to make my family proud.”