A 21-year-old District native known for her activism in city youth projects has been selected one of the outstanding young women of America for 198l by a national federation of women's clubs and civic organizations.
Juanita Bright, a junior high school dropout, was notified of her award last week in a letter from the president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
Speaking of the youth work for which she was cited, Bright, now a teller for American Security bank, said: "I'm flabbergasted. I never thought I'd be acknowledged for work I care so deeply about. I wasn't seeking an award."
Bright was nominated last year by her former boss, Patricia Puritz, acting director of D.C. Coalition for Youth, a nonprofit agency that is funded by both the public and private sectors.
"Juanita deserved this award and any other awards they're giving out to totally committed, industrious young people," said Puritz.
Bright began working for the coalition in 1978 as a youth advocate. "We did everything: we initiated job-training programs, stress workshops and published a monthly newsletter informing young people of job openings, special meetings, and analysis of the criminal justice system," she said.
Bright did much more. Over a period of three years, she testified before the Senate District Committee on the 1980 budget, spoke on employment opportunities at a national forum held by youth organizations from around the country, and became a member of the mayor's summer youth advisory board.
And more. "She ran a counseling program for both adults and young people and she was available day or night, she was entirely self-motivated, there was no supervision from me," Puritz recalled.
Bright worked her way to daylight from dark days and troubled nights. She dropped out of Lincoln Junior High School in the eighth grade. "I wasn't interested in anything," Bright says of those days. "I couldn't have cared less about anybody or anything other than myself. I did everything but take drugs and sell my body."
"She has more than paid her dues," said Lawrence Guyot, coordinator of volunteer activities for the Department of Human Services. Guyot befriended Bright in 1972 when he was director of social services for the now-defunct Pride Inc.
"Guyot knew I was drifting aimlessly," Bright remembers. "He took me under his wing, counseled me, and magically got me interested in, and excited about, community activities."
Her mother noticed the difference. "She found herself. She began helping the very ones she had dropped out of school to be with," said Juanita A. Bright of her youngest daughter. Mrs. Bright lost no time. Now that her daughter was occupied with Pride programs, she regularly and insistently stressed the importance of having a high school diploma.
In 1979, Bright passed the tests to receive a high school equivalency diploma.
But early last year, money for projects began drying up and Bright was let go from the coalition. "It was one of the saddest moments of my life," she said. "Not only was what I was doing enjoyable, it was necessary." Today, the D.C. Coalition for Youth consists of an acting director and a part-time secretary.
Bright does not enjoy being a bank teller and wants to return to school. "I want to become a congresswoman. I must prepare for it."
When her mentor, Lawrence Guyot, was told that Bright had been selected as one of America's outstanding young women, he said: "A young person has proven once again the power of the individual in a society that is usually very anonymous and very impersonal."
But Bright's mother had the last word: "I haven't come down off cloud nine."