COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)– Senior year is when most high schoolers are focused on the finish, but Westerville North’s track standout Autymn Briggs saw a chance to start something new.
“We brought back a pom dance team which is cheerleading and regular dancing together,” she explained, grinning from ear to ear. “And I started cheerleading this year, my first year ever! To start something new is really fun.”
“The girl stays busy! I can tell you that,” said the Warriors head track coach Johnny Jackson with a sigh. “There’s nothing that grows under her feet. She’s dancing and running and her grades are fantastic and she’s just somebody that you can truly depend on when you need them.”
“I’ve always been the person who, I don’t like to see people sad,” Autymn said. “Like, I want to help them any way I can.”
That mission became a passion during Autymn’s senior year as she used her light to guide her teammates through the darkness. This spring, a member of the Westerville North track team, completed suicide.
“It was shocking. The day before we saw her and she was really happy and to find out the next day what happened, it just hurt your soul because you were just with her,” Autymn said, her eyes widening almost pleading for the emotions to be understood. “It was dark. It was a really dark time. It got really quiet when we found out; but, when you looked around we were all together already. They told us when we were together as a team so we could bond and grieve together, which really helped. If we were alone, it would have been harder to process information. But there were teachers, the counselors were here and helped us grieve together. It was more – it was easier. It was easier to grieve.”
“She’s been there and she’s been strong,” Jackson said. “You always knew where to find her. She was going to be right there with everybody.”
“When I saw my teammates were down, like, I could see it in their eyes and how they present themselves, I just felt it was my responsibility to help them, get them to smile, get something happy on their face,” Autymn said. “That’s what I want to do in college: I want to be a psychiatrist and help people.”
College is the next step for Autymn’s education, but also her personal growth. She has decided to attend North Carolina A&T – a historically Black university.
“Sometimes you try to blend in with the people you’re around, but as you grow up you become more yourself and for me, I just started embracing who I was more,” she explained. “Because I grew up in Westerville there’s, it’s diverse but you aren’t around as many black people and I want to have an experience of the culture of Black community.”
“She’s coming in from a suburban school where there might not be a lot of blacks here, and then going to an HBCU which is more like family,” Jackson shared. “So she’s going to have a few more teachers and administrators and everything who look like her. And she’s going to feel more comfortable and at home and I think that’s important for the generation right now. That is very important for them to see faces that look like them in leadership positions.”
Embracing leadership is something Autymn has worked on this senior year, whether by choice in creating a new dance team, or when it’s been needed on her track team. This final year of high school has taught her to run towards the future with confidence and hope.
“I used to be scared to go for new things. I just can’t be scared to try!” she exclaimed. “My mentality changed, the way I view things changed, I opened my eyes more to everything around me and I just started to embrace and look at things more.”