Young Changemaker Jeremiah Green was named Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan’s 2021 Youth of the Year and is using his influence to advocate for mental health services
By Patrick Dunn
Photography by Darrel Ellis
Two years ago, when Jeremiah Green was 15, he says he was in the midst of a major depressive episode, and “on the brink of ending it all or just staying in my room for life.” But in that pivotal moment, he felt the urge to visit the Dick and Sandy Dauch Campus of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan. The organization, which provides educational, recreational, and inspirational programming to youths through 11 clubs scattered across Metro Detroit, has played an essential role in Jeremiah’s life since he was 6.
When he arrived, he learned the building was in the midst of a major renovation, something that would improve the club — and a smile crossed his face for the first time in months. “I was still sad. I was still depressed,” says Jeremiah. “But when I went there, it was like all my worries went away.”
Now 17, Jeremiah is giving back to the organization as its 2021 Youth of the Year. Club staff awards the annual honor to an outstanding young member who then serves as a club representative at public events and serves on the organization’s board of directors for the year. As Youth of the Year, Jeremiah has used his influence to advocate for expanding mental health services at the club.
The issue is close to Jeremiah’s heart: He is autistic and was often bullied in school as a child. “I was that so-called weird kid in school,” he says. “… But I was smart. Other kids would say, ‘Oh, he’s just weird.’ But I could do the work just like them. I just did it in a different manner.”
Jeremiah’s ultimate goal is for the club to have a therapist on staff in each of its clubs, and for the organization to make mental health one of its main priorities. He acknowledges those loftier goals may not come to fruition within his term as Youth of the Year, but he’s also been working to raise awareness of mental health in other ways. For Mental Health Awareness Month in August, he partnered with fashion brand Deviate Detroit to promote a line of “Affirmation Bags” — cross body bags bearing patches with affirmations like “I survived this feeling before, I can do it again.” Half the proceeds from the sales of the bags were donated to the Boys & Girls Club mental health programming.“
He’s the perfect person to really champion the effort because he has first-hand experience,” says Deviate co-founder Cassidy Tucker. “He’ll tell you himself that it’s not always easy and sometimes you may feel alone. I think he’s wise beyond his years.”
Jeremiah credits the club’s staff with helping him through his struggles — as well as the people he knows as his grand-parents, friends of his biological parents, who raised him. His grandfather, in particular, helped him make it through being bullied as a child. Jeremiah says his grandfather, who grew up in the deep South in the time of Jim Crow laws, understands experiencing prejudice and feeling “like no one likes you.”
“He told me, ‘Grandson, it don’t matter what no one says. You gotta love you for who you are,’” Jeremiah says.
Jeremiah was introduced to the Boys & Girls Club through his grandmother, who worked as a club director for the organization. He remembers first dreaming of be-coming Youth of the Year when he was only 8, although at that time he was primarily intrigued by the concept of getting a “cool trophy” and a picture of himself on the club’s wall. “I didn’t understand what Youth of the Year meant,” he says. “But as I grew up, I realized I wanted it because I wanted to show my ideas to the Boys and Girls Club. I wanted the respect, not just with my peers, but with the staff members.”
Jeremiah intends to continue making a positive impact long after his time as Youth of the Year term is done. After he graduates from Renaissance High School next year, he hopes to attend Xavier University in Ohio or Full Sail University in Florida and then pursue a career as a sports broadcaster, a film or TV director, or a YouTuber. But he says he also wants to continue uplifting the community he grew up in, ideally by creating jobs. “My grandma always said, ‘If you ever leave Detroit, try to come back and take someone else with you,’” he says. “And what that means is to give someone else the same opportunities you have or give them a chance to succeed.”