Kimberly Heard (right) helps 8-year-old Brooklyn DeBerry with homework at the A.R. “Gus” Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers. She was given the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta’s most prestigious award - 2019/2020 Youth of the Year. She advocates for underserved teens and helps them overcome obstacles. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Teen speaks up for clubs that helped her find self-confidence

Meet Kimberly Heard; she’s the new face of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta as its “Youth of the Year.”

The 16-year-old senior at Rockdale County High School is an AP honors student with aspirations in aerospace engineering. She can also give a pretty rousing speech, a recently discovered talent that helped put her over the top for the Clubs’ most coveted award.

The title allows Kimberly a public speaking platform that’s already taken her to Washington D.C., where she found her words could influence members of Congress, CEOs, and other movers and shakers in the nation’s capital.

It was heady stuff for a bright teenager, who, just a few years ago, had no experience speaking before crowds. Kimberly said before her involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs, she was quiet, introverted, and struggling to find her voice and identity.

On her first afternoon at the A.R. “Gus” Barksdale Boys & Girls Club in Conyers, Kimberly, then a high school freshman, retreated to a corner to be alone. She didn’t want to be there; her mother made her go. A staff member noticed her sitting by herself, writing in a notebook, and challenged her to write a poem.

By the end of the evening, Kimberly had submitted two poems that were selected for an anthology of creative work by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta youth.

“I’m thinking, wow, people thought what I wrote was good,” Kimberly remembered.

That was just the beginning. Kimberly and the other young authors were to read their poetry before a full house at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” she said. Her readings were greeted with thunderous applause and encouraging words of “good job, good job.”

“At that moment, I was so proud of myself, and I realized people would pay attention to what I had to say, and that I had a voice and I could use it,” Kimberly said.

Her public speaking ability came as no surprise to staffers and other leaders at the Barksdale club.

“She was a quiet young lady, but I knew from the first time she opened her mouth that she was destined for greatness in public speaking,” said Executive Director Terry Walker Moore.

The Boys & Girls Clubs helped to develop Kimberly’s natural talents for speaking and leadership, said her mother, Aisha Cobb. Her daughter is active in numerous programs, especially the arts, where she helps and encourages younger participants with their writing and drawing.

She has also been a leader in the teen center, which offers opportunities in job shadowing and internships. Kimberly was one of the first teens to serve as an intern with the Rockdale County Magistrate Court.

“Any opportunity where there is growth or giving back to the club, Kimberly is a go-getter for that,” Walker Moore said.

One of her favorite programs has been Global Girls, a program designed for girls with confidence issues. When the girls get together, they feel the freedom to share their struggles, goals, and dreams. “Everyone uplifts each other,” Kimberly said.

Though she had an outgoing personality as a child, Kimberly said as a preteen, her self-esteem crumbled, and comments from others made her question her worth.

“It wasn’t until I came to the Boys & Girls Clubs that I realized that I as an individual was good enough that I started to come out of that shell,” she said.

Helping other young people find self-confidence remains important to Kimberly. She said this would be a part of her platform as she speaks at events representing the 21 metro-area Boys & Girls Clubs. Kimberly will compete for statewide “Youth of the Year” at a competition this spring.

Cobb said she had no idea of her daughter’s inner struggles and is grateful the Barksdale club was accessible.

“I thank God that there was an outlet for her. She had a resource in the community to go to to bring that level of comfort back that I somehow overlooked and missed,” Cobb said.

Through the Boys & Girls Clubs, Kimberly found community support, public speaking opportunities, college preparation, encouragement, social support, peer enrichment, and much more, her mother said.

Said Kimberly: “I know there’s a place I can come where I’m accepted for who I am, flaws and all.”

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