PITTSFIELD -- Upon meeting Nyanna Slaughter, the first thing you are likely to notice is her height. Standing at 5'10 in sweat socks, she has a statuesque form and flawless face more akin to a model then a star athlete. But then you'll notice the gym bag packed and ready for a quick departure and the green and gold team suit that is a main staple of her wardrobe.
She was born and raised in Berkshire County and started in sports at the age of 4, when she learned to play soccer and basketball at the Pittsfield YMCA. From that tender age until today, sports have been a constant in her life. As a senior at Taconic High School she is the captain of the basketball and volleyball teams. She also plays for a travel team.
But sports are far from the only passion in this 17-year-old's life.
She attends church nearly every Sunday with her parents and has also co-starred in a short play called "Enuf!" which was based on the true life stories of Nyanna and eleven other young Pittsfield women.
"[Enuf!] started out as simple writing exercises within my Rites of Passage group," she said as she thought back a year ago. The Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program for Girls was founded in 2009 and emphases the holistic (mind, body and spirit) self-discovery of its participants. Enuf! was developed by playwright Yvette "Jamuna" Sirker and Spoken Word Artist Nakeida Bethel-Smith, inspired by an OBIE Award-winning play by Ntozake Shange.
Offered as a personal and poignant look inside the experiences of young women of color living in the Berkshires, the play opened to a packed crowd, and its popularity sparked a demand for more show dates throughout Berkshire County.
"The next thing I knew, we were collaborating and helping to develop a real play, and then we were on stage performing it. There was a scene about hair that [we] mostly improvised. It was a lot of fun just coming up with that," she said.
Aside from her successful stint as an actress, Slaughter has a long list of accolades and awards as proof of her hard work and commitment, including a recent sportsmanship award bestowed upon her by referees and coaches throughout Berkshire County.
Although she has proven excellence in athletics, her academic standing is impressive also.
"I've made the high honors list every year since middle school. I've only missed one day of school since the third grade, and last year I received the Outstanding Algebra 2 Award," she said, naming a few.
She has also received several Dean Merit Scholarships from various colleges and universities, including New Haven University, Curry College, A.I.C. and Western New England University. To say that her athletic and academic records are impressive is an understatement.
"I plan on attending the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven in the fall," she said, "where I'll be studying criminal justice for crime scene investigation. Dr. Lee was on the O.J. Simpson case and other high profile cases. When I'm in his class, I'll have the opportunity to visit actual crime scenes. I'm very excited for that and I'm just [as] excited about working in that field. I can't wait to go to college. I'm looking forward to getting a more complete view of the world."
Criminal investigation shows on television sparked her interest in crime scene investigation.
"I originally started watching "Criminal Minds" but then I got hooked on ‘C.S.I.,'" she said with a smile. "Just this past Christmas my family wanted to watch the game but there was a C.S.I. marathon on. I watched it for four hours before my Dad made me change the channel."
Before she could rush off to yet another practice session, she considered the question, where does she see herself in 10 years?
"In 10 years, I'll be living in a beautiful home, possibly in Atlanta, Ga., with my dog. She's an Alaskan malamute. I'll be working in crime scene investigation, and people will call me Sargent Slaughter!" she said, laughing.
On the bridge
This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.
To learn more about Nayanna Slaughter and many more Berkshire voices, visit the blog: