Youth of Year winner Canady aims to make even bigger impact

When she was named Wisconsin’s Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, Daijahnay Canady couldn’t help but cry. But the truly special moment came after the ceremony.

Canady, 16, had been sexually abused when she was 7 years old. Canady admitted that this caused her to be, unsurprisingly, “an angry child. It was hard for me to really cope.”

It took years, but Canady started turning things around after this unspeakable act once she started talking about it.

“I was sexually abused. It happened, and I can’t change it,” she said. “For me, to let it eat me up inside, and to tell it, it’s a lot of relief, and I’m able to breathe now. I’ve changed, and everyone around me has seen me change.”

Once she helped herself, Canady knew she wasn’t done — she could help others who went through something similar. And that meant she had to continually tell her story.

“It all starts by setting an example for people,” Canady said. “To let them know, I’ve been through I’ve been through what you’ve been through, but look at me now. You can get to this, or you can get higher than me, all it takes is speak, just talk about it. For some people, it’s not going to be easy and it’s going to take time — a lot of time. But in the end it’s all going to be worth it because you’re not going to be afraid anymore.”

She also knows it’s not easy to talk — or to get someone to discuss what they went through.

“It took a lot of patience from the Boys & Girls club. It took a lot of 1-on-1s, to be like, ‘What’s wrong, do you need help?’ It took a lot of patience to talk about it,” Canady said. “Because it’s not easy to talk about stuff like that. And for them to sit down and wait for me and wait on me to talk, that was just an awesome thing. That’s the attention that every child needs.”

Beyond getting her own life back on track and talking with others, her actions led Canady to be named FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Youth of the Year, then she won the Boys & Girls state competition, which also netted her a $5,000 college scholarship.

It was after the latter ceremony in which an adult, who had also been abused, came up to Canady and told her how she was inspired by this teenager who was so courageous in being able to tell her story.

The impact and inspiration she could have on people of all ages was incredibly satisfying for Canady. And she’s not done.

Next up is a regional Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year competition in Chicago on July 17. The winner gets $50,000 in scholarships and advances to the national competition in Washington, D.C., but more importantly it would give Canady an even bigger platform to help others.

Canady, who hopes to attend the University of Minnesota and study law, perhaps one day prosecuting abusers, intends to start a group for youths called SPEAK — which stands for Staying Positive Encouraging All Kids.

Even if she doesn’t win the competition, Canady will continue to try and make an impact, especially in her hometown of Milwaukee. Recently during FOX’s Impact Week, Canady assisted at the Sojourner Family Peace Center, putting together a kit of essentials for abuse victims staying at the center.

“I was like, let’s concentrate, let’s get this done, because we’d want for somebody to do the same for us, and a place like Sojourner, where they help women who’ve been victimized and abused, and also children, that’s a really awesome thing,” she said. “So to be a part of that, I know that change is happening because I’m making that change and it’s a really impactful thing to do … just to know that in the end what I did, they’re going to get it, I’m so grateful.”