For Jakyra Bryant, a calling to educate almost seems as though it was her destiny in life.
A Chicago native, her mother worked for City Year of Chicago, a nonprofit organization that connects students with community service opportunities to help them rise to their full potential.
“I remember her tutoring students and going on field trips,” Bryant said. “Education was something she really cared about, so it was always present in my life. That started my interest early.”
It was an interest that eventually would lead her to the University of Dubuque — a school she took an interest in for its more manageable size, friendly environment and student-to-teacher ratio — where she studied elementary education and early childhood education, graduating in 2021.
Since April, the 23-year-old has put her education to good use as the school-aged coordinator for the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA. A few years prior to that, she served as a teaching assistant for the organization.
After completing her student teaching in Houston in the Aldine Independent School District, Bryant contemplated remaining in Texas to begin her career in the classroom. However, not feeling quite ready to make that move, an opportunity at the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA piqued her interest.
“I was actually interviewing for another position, but I did so well at my interview, the woman who eventually would become my boss let me know of the school-aged coordinator position that also was available,” Bryant said.
Deb Gustafson, executive director of child care and social services at the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA, said Bryant has been an asset to the organization.
“Jakyra is a bright, enthusiastic and educated young lady that has a passion for children and her community,” she said. “We are delighted to have her on our team.”
The Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA’s school-aged programming highlights safety, health, social growth and academic achievement for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to its website.
It incorporates everything from recreational activities to arts and crafts, and homework assistance to help youth hone their strengths and interests.
Bryant credited the position with enabling her to gain valuable experience as an educator — meeting youth where they are in their educational development and connecting learning with fun — as well as forging important connections with other leaders from within the community.
“One of the things I’d love to do is to own my own school,” Bryant said. “This position has given me more experience on the administrative side. It’s not always what you do but who you know you can reach out to. And I have had a lot of opportunities to make connections in the community in this role.”
The will to thrive
Despite Bryant’s success, life didn’t deal her the easiest hand.
Her mother birthed her as a teen and raised Bryant and her three siblings as a single parent.
Bryant attended 17 schools throughout her educational journey.
“We went through everything you could think of — poverty, food insecurity, not having enough clothing,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of nights I would cry myself to sleep.”
It was at school where a socially outgoing Bryant discovered a sense of solace and belonging among teachers and her peers.
“Life was hard, and school was easy and flew by,” she said. “School allowed me to forget. It allowed me to connect. I had good and bad teachers, but the good ones were really amazing and believed in me. They let me know as an educator that the biggest thing you can do for a student is show that that someone cares.”
It also gave Bryant and her siblings a fierce sense of independence and an inner drive to help others that would serve them well throughout their lives.
She has a 24-year-old brother who is a social worker. She also has two sisters, ages 20 and 21, who work in the beauty industry and in veterinary care, respectively.
“My mother is an amazing woman and my best friend,” Bryant said. “As you get older, you start to see your parents not just as parents but as people who did the best they could with what they were given. You grant them grace. And my mother worked hard to beat the odds and come out on top. She wanted us to work hard and stay on the right track, especially in school. Watching her support us and and going through what we did definitely made me learn how to depend on myself. That made me want to make things happen by any means possible, to be better, to do better and to help provide for other kids that might be going through the same kind of thing.”
In addition to her work in education, Bryant also has been a swim instructor, a lifeguard, a camp counselor and was active as a student ambassador and in student government during her time at UD.
Additionally, she is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, and has organized and participated in several peaceful gatherings in Dubuque — among them, a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Jackson Park; a Switching Places Foundation march on Grandview Avenue; a rally against gun violence in Washington Square; and an abortion rights rally at Allison-Henderson Park.
“I don’t think you can complain about a community you live in without trying to get involved and trying to offer a solution to the problem,” Bryant said. “Getting involved in all areas of diversity, equity, equality and inclusion is very important to me.”
While Bryant enjoys the Dubuque community and her role at the Y — in addition to history and travel opportunities — she does have lofty plans for her future, including possible political involvement.
“Eventually, I plan to move on,” she said. “I want to be the United States Secretary of Education. To make it there, I have to keep broadening my horizons. But I will make it there.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.