Liberia native awarded Young Hero distinction

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Eight summers ago, warfare in Monrovia, Liberia, generated unrest for Daniette Horton and her family. Though none of her relatives perished in the Second Liberian Civil War, the conflict brought the city the constant sound of gunfire and wailing. 


Today, the 14-year-old will hear another thunderous display, that of applause, as she and 31 other students will receive plaudits at the 11th annual TD Bank Young Heroes Award ceremony at Old City’s National Liberty Museum. 


An eighth-grader-to-be at Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., Daniette has made her six years in the United States testaments to the benefits of believing in oneself and building up others. A self-starter, she exudes confidence no matter the endeavor, according to nominator Celeste Thompson, one of her seventh-grade teachers. 


“I have always been interested in helping others,” Daniette said Friday. “It makes me feel good to bring people through their struggles.” 


She has proven an expert at conquering her own dilemmas. The youngest of eight children, she began her life in a country rife with conflict, corruption, poverty and unemployment. Her father, living in the United States, felt a move would allow her to flourish, so Daniette arrived May 23, 2005, 21 months after the war’s conclusion and six months before the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa, who has stabilized lingering tension. 


She settled on the 1700 block of Catharine Street and attended Edwin M. Stanton School, 901 S. 17th St. Though proficient in English, Liberia’s official language, she required extra instruction the institution could not offer, so the switch to Andrew Jackson occurred. The Passyunk-Square facility distanced the youngster from shyness and forged appreciation for her American experience. 


“The easiest part of life here is going to school all the time,” she said, as her Liberian existence involved sporadic attendance. “At Andrew Jackson, I am not afraid to be friendly, give help or show my personality.”


She owes part of her strength to stepsister Mary Ann Skipper. Daniette lived with her father and stepmother Dorothy Adams-Horton before their separation. Adams-Horton’s March ’09 death led Skipper to seek custody.


“My mother had me see to it that Daniette continue to receive a great education,” she said.


Skipper relocated Daniette to West Philadelphia’s Overbrook Park section yet saw no need to place her in another school, deeming time at Andrew Jackson “the best thing that could have happened to her.” 


Eager to enter her fifth year there, Daniette will strive to top her academically impressive seventh-grade year and will seek to prove that heroes need not be celebrities or even adults.


Knowing the importance of the first year of junior high school, she last year refrained from inundating herself with activities and club commitments, expanding upon her love of music by playing guitar. 


“We kept saying seventh grade is the most challenging,” Skipper said. “We had to get over the hump.” 


One could say Daniette hacked the hump to shreds, as her diligence led her to attain advanced scores in reading and math on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. Eighth grade will bring a chance to perform equally well on the science section and writing portion. The latter will let her show off skills that played a huge role in her nomination.


“Writing is expression without talking,” she said of her passion for paper.


Her topics include reactions to her days’ events and blend with artistic renditions of the occurrences to encourage other learners to be more industrious in their observations. Her dexterity led to her drawing’s inclusion on her school’s Suns of Liberty creation that joined seven other conceptions in the Philadelphia Arts Education Partnership’s Let Art Freedom Ring program.


“I rely on colored pencils and crayons,” Daniette said. “I like anything that’s bright.”



Daniette began her altruism early in life, helping her mother and siblings, members of the Bassa ethnic group, their country’s second largest. Leaving them presented Daniette with a bittersweet experience.


“I was happy to be able to receive a good education, but sad to say goodbye,” she said.


Only a four-hour time difference exists between her first and second lands, so she often calls her family, garnering and giving praise as she works on her subtle acts of heroism and acknowledges her predecessors in progress. 


“My heroes are my family, friends and teachers,” Daniette said. 


In constructing her essay, Thompson, whom Daniette credits for her evolving writing skills, offered a glowing account of the young lady’s efforts. The teacher made Daniette her first nomination because of her willingness to give academic assistance and eagerness to probe the complexity of racial and gender equality.


A song analysis assignment found her explaining Sam Cooke’s 1964 song “A Change Is Gonna Come” and touching on the tune’s meaning to her. According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, in 2003, Liberia’s numerous woes included an 85 percent unemployment rate, an 80 percent below-the-poverty-line mark, a 59 percent literacy figure (as of ’09) and a 57-year life expectancy. Cooke’s message presented a reminder of her days in Africa and her dreams for the continent’s overall improvement. 


Another endeavor, the Bandana Project, saw Daniette addressing the plight of female farmworkers in the United States. She drew a tree to symbolize hard work, a peace sign to note peace’s existence in the world, a heart to depict love, a no-violence sign to prove peace’s powers, a butterfly to encourage their flight from oppression and a flower to reflect their beauty.


“Her talents, especially her helpfulness, led me to nominate Daniette,” Thompson, who cited her for her artistic expression, friendship-building and volunteer work, said.


She told Daniette of the nomination the penultimate day of school, flooring the teenager.


“I had not known of the awards,” the smiling child said of the tokens that honor volunteerism, the promotion of appreciation for diversity and conflict resolution or violence prevention.


Daniette learned of her selection as a winner July 28 and admitted that dealing with her designation as a hero has not been as easy as making friends. 


“I was told I am a Young Hero, but the title has not sunk in yet,” she said.


Her biggest personal acknowledgement, the award will allow for her to attend a luncheon at the museum, where she will receive a certificate, gifts and a medal. Her story and her colleagues’ tales will end up appearing in the location’s Young Heroes exhibit.


As of Friday, she had not told her Liberian relatives of her triumph, but one figures her clan will delight in the news. With school set to begin Sept. 6, she is eager to play the recorder and wield a guitar for Rock Band, the video game that lets users simulate performances of popular rock music songs.


“I tell Daniette not to worry,” Skipper said. “She needs to let it out, be herself and watch things happen.” 


Her stepsister has no trouble following the advice.


“I think of myself as special,” she said. “I have to so I can be a good leader.” 


Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

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