Serenity Jackson is a confident, dynamic 12-year-old rap artist known for performances around the region. But when she was bullied in school a few years ago, she turned to a close friend for help – Kira Warren, 32.
Their long friendship has grown from the first day they met, when Serenity was 7 and they were matched as a new “Big” and “Little” through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I was really nervous,” Serenity recalls. “I wasn’t expecting her to be that nice.” The two went bowling – helping improve Serenity’s math skills – and they just clicked. “That’s when I started feeling comfortable with her. She’s funny and she has a great personality.”
Kira says the duo has enjoyed “a great time” in the past five years. “Her energy level since the beginning has been off the charts. … She always has stories to tell and wants to tell me about her family and friends and all the activities that she does. No nerves now, just excitement.”
‘Like a real big sister’
Serenity’s mother, Michelle Johnson, made the first call to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass and Metrowest after her eldest son’s unexpected death, when she and her other children were in grief counseling. Five years later, the friendship between Serenity and Kira has been phenomenal, she says.
“We feel Kira is our family now. She’s like a real big sister to Serenity, rather than just a person we met five years ago,” Michelle says. “She is an amazing person.”
Serenity says her longtime friend is a constant presence. “Sometimes I’m really busy, sometimes I’ve got to go do this and I say, ‘Oh, I only have a half an hour,’ and she’ll make time around her schedule – ‘Well, how about a 30-minute FaceTime call or a game?’ I’m really surprised how patient she is,” Serenity says. “Every time we meet up, she asks me how my day is, how school’s going, how rap’s going – she’s really there for me.”
‘I felt comfortable talking to her’
A few years ago, Serenity was being bullied at a former school, ridiculed for her musical passion and video creations, she and her mother recall.
“School really didn’t help with that. Kira did, because when I told her all about that, she helped me, she took me out to do something fun to get my mind off it, and I felt comfortable talking to her about it,” Serenity says. “That made me more confident in myself that those haters can’t get to me.
“If you’re going through a lot, maybe one conversation with a Big Sister or Big Brother would definitely help.”
‘You own the stage’
Serenity’s rap career has taken off in recent years, and Kira is one of her top fans. “She has a ton of local performances, and I’ve gone to a lot of them to cheer her on with her family and friends,” Kira says.
Serenity dreams of following in the footsteps of performers such as Joyner Lucas. “When he was little, everybody doubted him, and now he’s famous and performing with well-known artists,” Serenity says. “A lot of people have doubted me, and I want to grow up to prove them wrong.”
Kira says her friend’s growth as a performer has been incredible.
“Seeing how she’s changed from watching her perform at the library in the beginning and then by the end of the summer, the difference between that first performance and her last, just seeing that growth – I was like, ‘You have gotten so much better, so much more confident. You own the stage,’” Kira recalls. “Seeing how happy she is up there and doing what she loves to do and just cheering her on has been really cool.”
‘Help open the doors’
Kira says as Serenity has grown, she’s tried to help her connect to friends and family who could lend a hand with her career. At Kira’s recent wedding, she introduced Serenity to a cousin who works in performing arts.
The power of mentorship, she says, is partly about finding others young people can talk with and contact for support “and help open the doors into these different careers – spaces they aren’t found in, where people from their identities aren’t found in.”
Kira, who works for a nonprofit organization counseling first-generation college students, says when the time arrives, she’ll happily help Serenity with the college application process.
They have reversed positions in one way over the past five years – Serenity towers above Kira by about 6 inches. “At her wedding, I looked like I was the Big,” Serenity says with a laugh. “She always says that I should be the one driving the car.”
Kira has enjoyed her experience with Serenity and expects a bright future for her Little.
“It’s been really fun just seeing her grow up to be this young woman,” Kira says. “I’m so excited for everything that she has ahead of her.”
A sample of the activities Kira and Serenity have enjoyed:
- Kayaking for the first time
- Making slime
- Scrapbooking (“We’re a couple years behind,” Kira says with a laugh)
- Arts and crafts
- Dance parties
- Board and card games