Atlanta Teen Voices / all

Art by Luciana Cavienss

Defining Black Excellence at Westlake High School

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Westlake is a high school located on the southside of Atlanta. This predominantly Black high school is based upon unity and success to excel in every area you can think of. Westlake sets a strong foundation for students to be successful through a variety of opportunities and extracurricular activities. It’s not just a regular state-of-the-art school but a home to students who want to fulfill their potential. Westlake has helped students in taking the initiative to follow and execute their dreams for 30 years and counting. But there was a major misconception recently  published in the local news regarding this school.

An erroneous news story appeared on WSB-TV in June, falsely claiming Westlake was a school with failing scores. The story was supposed to highlight the students graduating and moving onto their next chapter in life. This story did the absolute opposite by taking the spotlight away from their successes (every graduating senior is going to college) and focusing on the school’s past failures from 2012-2014, showing yet another time where the media tries to bash Black schools in the midst of their ultimate success.

Editor’s note: WSB has since corrected their article to show that Westlake’s grades have improved every year since 2015.

The original news statement truly angered me, and I wanted to shift the focus toward the Black excellence that has been thriving at Westlake since forever. I wanted to prove to viewers that Black kids can be great without overcoming hardship. So, I decided to have an email interview and showcase five of the many talented students at our school. These five students have played a major role at our school and excel their own individual talent.

Allow me to introduce you to some of our Westlake Lions!

Chase Lloyd, 18, Vanderbilt University (Westlake Class of 2020)

Hello, My name is Chase Lloyd I am currently a student-athlete at Vanderbilt University. I am a part of the football team. I played football, basketball, and ran track at Westlake. I was on the A/B honor roll all four years. I received Team MVP, All Region team, and All Metro Atlanta team honors. 

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you develop and thrive for your future career ?

Lloyd: Westlake provided me with the right tools I needed both in the classroom and on the football field. Also, the previous success of other alumni took part in motivating me to get to where I am today.

VOX ATL: What led you to commit to Vanderbilt? What other offers did you receive ?

Lloyd: The family environment. In my opinion, this coaching staff kept it real more than any other coaching staff that I was being recruited by. It was honestly an easy decision. I also wanted to play in the best conference in college football while maintaining such a prestigious degree. I had about 20 other offers.

VOX ATL: In what ways did Westlake staff and coaches prep you for these opportunities? Do you believe Westlake being a predominately Black school helped you to flourish? If so how?

Lloyd: I believe the coaching staff pushed me to be my best and prepared me well.  A lot of the drills we do at Vanderbilt, I was taught at Westlake. I believe going to a predominately Black school has helped me to embrace my culture, especially during this time with the issues we are facing right now in our country.

VOX ATL: Did you connect with any of the coaches and develop a deep insightful mentorship? Could you please describe how he was able to guide you in your athletic journey?

Lloyd: I connected with all of my football coaches. They would push me to do things that I didn’t really understand at the time, but when you get to the next level you really start to understand why they made us do the things we did.

VOX ATL: How long have you been playing football? What drove you to play football and pursue this as a career?

Lloyd: I’ve been playing football since I was 6. My dad put the football in my hands, and I fell in love with the game ever since.

VOX ATL: What distinguishes you among other athletes? What do you bring to the table that you excel in greatly more than others?

Lloyd: My work ethic. I’m not going to let anyone outwork [me], and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. I love the game and I am fully dedicated to it.

VOX ATL: What are your future goals for football?

Lloyd: I plan to make it to the NFL and be one of the best to ever play my position. I want to earn that gold [NFL Hall of Fame] jacket.

VOX ATL: When you heard about the WSB-TV report, how did this make you feel? Do you feel this was a proper representation of Westlake?

Lloyd: When I saw the tweet I felt it was very ignorant. I appreciate the celebration of the 2020 class, but I feel that it was disrespectful to every other previous class. The statistics show that it has been years since Westlake was a failing school.

Myla Hadley , 17

Hello my name is Myla Hadley.I am currently the reigning Teen Miss Georgia Earth 2020. As a title holder I have made a commitment and a big effort to serve my community in as many ways possible.

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you utilize your gifts in these areas of expertise?

Hadley: Westlake offers an environment where you are surrounded by talent, by greatness and by encouragement, which pushes me to strive for excellence in my craft or example, the amazing fine arts and music department that Westlake offers. As a violinist I am surrounded by other talented musicians who all strive for excellence just like me.

VOX ATL: What are your major achievements at Westlake and outside of Westlake?

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Hadley: Recently, I was given a proclamation from the city of South Fulton. I was crowned Miss 11th Grade in Homecoming court. I am reigning Teen Miss Georgia Earth 2020, also reining Miss Georgia South 2020.  In 2018, I was called USA National Miss Georgia Jr. Teen. I am also the founder of S.T.A.A.R. (Supporting Teen Anxiety Awareness and Resources) and model for some of Atlanta’s best photographers and designers.

VOX ATL: What is something that you love about your school ? 

Hadley: I love that Westlake not only offers a wealth of talent and merit but also a family. Our teachers and staff are always there to support us, and our principal truly goes above and beyond to make sure that every student feels loved and appreciated, every student is being guided on how to create their own path and future, and that there is no student left behind.

VOX ATL: What are some of the clubs and programs you are involved in at Westlake? 

Hadley: I am a part of Westlake orchestra, Future Leaders of Westlake, United Sound, and BEE Club.

VOX ATL: Do you believe Westlake being a predominately Black school helped you to flourish?

Hadley: Yes, because I was surrounded by others that look like me who were doing great things and who were being leaders as well.

VOX ATL: In what ways has Westlake helped you develop and thrive for your future career? What are some goals you have for the future? 

Hadley: I would like to attend Spelman College to major in biology and minor in music education, and in the future I would like to one day be a neurosurgeon and win Miss Universe.

VOX ATL: Lastly, is there anything you would like to tell me about yourself or what you’re working toward, any future goals?

Hadley: Yes, after being diagnosed at a young age with an anxiety disorder when I was 15 I started S.T.A.A.R. in efforts to bring awareness to anxiety and our mental health overall.

Cason Jones, 16

Hi, my name is Cason Jones, and I’m a young photographer and entrepreneur located in Atlanta, Georgia.

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you utilize your gifts in photography or entrepreneurship?

Jones: Westlake has given me numerous opportunities to step up and lead, improve my skills, and find like-minded individuals. By being in a school that encourages young entrepreneurs, I’ve been able to operate my business and improve my skill set right within its walls by charging my classmates for high-quality pictures. It’s been a successful and profitable business model that may have been the impetus for the success I’m experiencing now. 

Leadership positions such as class president have given me experiences, opportunities, and lessons that have been relevant to not only my photography business but practically everything I do, and the opportunity to be in a class solely for graphic design has gifted me new expertise I would not have cultivated without Westlake.

VOX ATL: What are some of the clubs, programs, extracurriculars you are a part of at Westlake? Have you been in any leadership positions at Westlake and played a significant role in some of the decisions made at the school? 

Jones: I’m a part of a few clubs at Westlake, including: Future Business Leaders of America, Future Leaders of Westlake, Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, BETA Club, student government, and a few more. I hold leadership positions in Beta Club as the treasurer and SGA as class president. As a rising junior, my role as president has been limited to class events such as movie nights, parties, and planning school events like pep rallies with my team. As treasurer of Beta Club, I’ve helped organize community service events and the annual initiation ceremony. I’m excited to take on a bigger role this year, as the current pandemic will require me to step up and be a crucial student leader and voice for my class.

VOX ATL: What drove you to participate in so many clubs and programs at Westlake?

Jones: I really don’t know. I guess I felt like I didn’t want to waste my time in high school. I wanted to utilize all the resources and opportunities that I was given. I wanted to join an organization that could make me a better person, leader, speaker, and listener. So, I went for it and joined all the clubs I thought were interesting.

VOX ATL: What are major accomplishments that you achieved at Westlake?

Jones: Winning the science fair with my friend Rodney my freshman year was one of my favorite accomplishments coming into Westlake. We ended up winning best in the fair, third in the county, and got to compete in the state fair.  I also achieved other accomplishments, like the most community service hours in my class, the scholar athlete award and being top 10% in my class.

VOX ATL: From an academic standpoint, would you say you were an overachiever? Can you tell me about some of your academic achievements?

Jones: I wouldn’t say an overachiever necessarily, just someone who does everything with the highest level of excellence possible. I feel that if my name is attached to something, it now represents me, my work ethic, and my skills so it must be done to a level that I approve of.  As for academic achievements, having a 4.0 GPA and a PSAT score better than 95% of my class were two things I’m proud of accomplishing last year.

VOX ATL: Will you elaborate on your business Atl Visuals and what this business entails? What atmosphere were you able to create with this business at Westlake ?

Jones: My business Atl Visuals is a simple photography company; however, I’ve been able to capture a niche market as I mentioned by taking pictures of my classmates for an extremely low cost. It has allowed me to fund my business and expand and operate all over the Atlanta area. As for the atmosphere it creates, I would say it’s a very fun and enjoyable one. I try to make every photoshoot feel like it’s your birthday. I bring a speaker that you can play your music on and encourage you to bring your friends to the shoot to make it more relaxing and fun for the model(s).

VOX ATL: How was your experience creating the Westlake Chronicles (a collection of photos of Westlake students)?Can you describe the atmosphere of Westlake after shooting this?

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Jones: Oh that was a fun time, taking pictures of students in their element without prompts led to some really dramatic and life capturing pictures. I can’t wait to continue my photo-documentary of life at Westlake when we return. As for the atmosphere there was no change necessarily. People really liked seeing themselves in the virtual “yearbook” that I created.

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you develop and thrive for your future career?

Jones: Westlake, as I’ve mentioned has helped me become a better leader, team player, and overall more productive person. However, it’s been primarily external programs that have helped me directly work on my career path since the business pathway has been faltering in recent years. Having an administration that supports your goals and ventures makes up for it tenfold though.

VOX ATL: When you heard about the WSB-TV report, how did this make you feel? Do you feel this was a proper representation of Westlake?

Jones: Originally I was confused. We aren’t a failing school and haven’t been in years, so I was wondering how this false report ever happened. Later that day on social media I saw our student body and administration correcting the media by showcasing our Westlake student leaders, entrepreneurs, and many other students exploding with creativity and a passion for learning. At that moment I was so proud of our school. I was proud that we cared about our image and that we cared about our academic excellence. So no the reporter did not give an accurate representation of Westlake. But, the students that stepped up and used their voice to stand up for our school did.

India Rice, 18, Clark Atlanta University (Westlake Class of 2020)

Hey y’all! My name is India Rice and I currently attend the illustrious Clark Atlanta University. From the Lake to the promenade. Watch out for me!

VOX ATL: What is something that you love about your school ? What distinguishes you from other people, being a student from Westlake?

Rice: I am an 18-year old mass communication major who loves people and to get involved in my community. Me and my two of my friends have a mental health organization that strives to help youth find support through other youth with their mental health.

I love that Westlake was a community of Black excellence. As a predominately Black school the students were always doing amazing things not only in school but in our communities. Also there are a plethora of opportunities to advance as a person such as lunch and learns, scholarships, amazing arts and athletic programs, and amazing academics.

What distinguishes me is that I genuinely loved my school and was dedicated to all that it was. I was in over 13 clubs, I ran for Miss Westlake, I stayed after school and on weekends to ensure that the needs of my school and its organizations were met. I loved being a member of that school when I was inside and when I was gone and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for it. Westlake was my home.

VOX ATL: What are some of the clubs, programs, extracurricular you were a part of at Westlake? Have you been in a leadership position at Westlake and played a significant role in some of the decisions made at the school ? 

Rice: Some clubs that i was in were Beta Club where I was co-president, Bee Club mentor, SGA Vice President, Flow leader and DECA’s VP of marketing. I was also a Skills USA leader,  volleyball and lacrosse manager, a Chick-Fil-A leader and I was founder of the Brainy Bunch mental health initiative. I was a school governance council leader which helps student board members help make decisions at the school from a students perspective.

VOX ATL: Why do you advocate so heavily on mental health in your community ?

Rice: For the simple yet complex fact that mental health in the Black community is completely overlooked and that the youth does not feel comfortable with most adults to seek mental help.

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you utilize your gifts and talents in your community ?

Rice: It gave me a plethora of opportunities to go into my community through the clubs that I was a part of and make a difference. It also helped me to hone in on the talents that I already had to make them better and more useful to be a steward in my community.

VOX ATL: Can you elaborate on your experience being a part of the Brainy Bunch’s mental health initiative? What were you able to contribute to Westlake through this group ?

Rice: The brainy bunch was created when a community member and school governance member brought to our attention Westlake’s lack of mental health initiatives. So me and two of my friends got on board to create programs for mental health and events that would better our school. We were featured on the news and we were able to bring a more positive and mentally stable environment.

VOX ATL: What are some of your major accomplishments that you were able to achieve at Westlake? 

Rice: I was on the honor roll all four years, I won Mrs. Congeniality at the Miss Westlake pageant, I got people’s choice at the WSH got talent show and I got student of the month.

VOX ATL: From an academic standpoint would you say you did exceedingly well , can you tell me about some of your academic achievements?

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Rice: I believe I did well because I pushed myself to ensure that my grades were up to my standards. My academic achievements were having an honor roll every year and principles list my senior year. I was extremely proud of myself.

VOX ATL: In what ways has Westlake helped you develop and thrive for your future career ?

Rice: It’s helped me by allowing me to focus on my pathways like A/V tech, I was able to dual enroll at the college and career academy to get closer to my field in journalism and Westlake offered plenty of connections through guest speakers and field trips for my field.

VOX ATL: As a part of the class of 2020 When you heard about this WSB story, how did this make you feel? Do you feel this was a proper representation of Westlake? If not, explain why not? If yes, explain why ? 

Rice: That was not a proper representation of Westlake because this seemed to be a backhanded compliment simply for an “attention grabbing” headline. Westlake seniors passed, and we deserved to be represented as such.

Editor’s note: India has been a VOX ATL teen staff member as well. 

Jaire-Tariq DeAndre Richardson, 18, Georgia State University (Westlake Class of 2020)

Greetings, my name is Jaire Richardson. I am Co-CEO of I Will Prosper, author of “I Will Prosper: Teenage Mental Health Guide,” and I am a youth activist. I advocate for the youth and for mental health awareness.

VOX ATL: How has Westlake helped you utilize your gifts in these areas of expertise?

Richardson: The culture of Westlake is like a mini-HBCU where everyone is doing something, so it persuades you to get up and do something. There have been multiple tragedies at Westlake that have sparked my drive for mental health. Being in SGA and Homecoming Court helped me realize we teens don’t have as big of a voice in our schools, community, etc. So simply I just acted on every opportunity given to me at that school and that is how Westlake helped me.

VOX ATL: What are some of the clubs, programs, extracurricular you were a part of at Westlake? Have you been in a leadership position at Westlake and played a significant role in some of the decisions made at the school?

Richardson: I was in SGA, Men Of Westlake, Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, Golf Team, Homecoming Court, Football, Natural Hair Club, Peer Mentor, and Now and Laters Club. Surprisingly no, I wasn’t in any leadership positions at Westlake, but I still played a very significant role in some of the decisions made at my school.

VOX ATL: Please describe your experiences in some of these programs and how you were able to impact the students of Westlake.

Richardson: They were very refreshing experiences because I’m so used to taking the lead in every project that I’m a part of, but majority of the time I found myself behind the scenes. I’m not going to lie, it was so hard because these people had way better resources and opportunities than I did, so it was really hard for me to make a name for myself at that school. It took four long years for me to at least get a seat at the table. Senior year is when I started to finally have my voice heard, and I utilized that to my advantage. I started to help others who had felt like they were useless and that what they were doing wasn’t important. I started to cultivate a new culture at Westlake. One where it didn’t matter if we grew up together or not, I still supported you. One where people didn’t decide if they wanted to associate with you because of the kind of clothes you are wearing.

VOX ATL: Can you elaborate on your business, I Will Prosper, and what these business entails? What atmosphere were you able to create with this business? 

Richardson: I Will Prosper started as a mental health awareness and motivational movement. My business partner and I teamed [up] to make it a clothing line as well. When you wear our clothes, we want you to feel empowered. To “prosper” means to flourish, and when you read our clothes we want you to feel like you are flourishing or prospering. We created a more positive atmosphere at Westlake. As more and more people started to wear our clothing, more and more people started saying to themselves “I will prosper.”

VOX ATL: When you heard about the WSB-TV report, how did this make you feel? Do you feel this was a proper representation of Westlake?

Richardson: Honestly, I didn’t feel any type of way toward it because people in the media have always had an altered view on Black communities. I’ve been at home Westlake all four years, and we grew substantially each year, so it is definitely not a proper representation of Westlake.

Editor’s note: Jaire also participated in some VOX ATL activities.  

These students are the definition of Black excellence at Westlake. They have accomplished so much at such a young age. They follow in the footsteps of Westlake alumni like New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, former NFL linebacker Keyaron Fox, and so many more. Our school does not equate to failure but to success. No matter what story or report is published to try and tarnish the school’s reputation, these students will continue to triumph in the face of adversity. The Westlake legacy lives on through them. 


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