Photography by David Michael Howarth
Shot on location at SpeedRaceway in Cinnaminson

 

It’s no secret that South Jersey is full of incredible people doing amazing things. But what’s really impressive is when those local stand-outs haven’t even graduated high school (or, in some cases, elementary school!).

Wanmmor | 17,15,13,10 years old | Voorhees

Maybe the Morris brothers were always destined for musical greatness. After all, they grew up with a very famous father. Wanyá Morris made a name for himself as a member of the R&B group Boyz II Men, then passed that name along: times 4. His sons also carry the name Wanyá, though they’re better known by their nicknames.

Wanyá II “Big Boy,” has the powerful voice that mirrors his dad’s tones. Wanyá III, 15, called “Chulo” is a master at melody. Wanyá IV, known as “Tyvas,” 13, has the silky-smooth voice, and at 10, Wanyá V, called “Rocco,” brings boundless energy to the group.

Music has always been a big part of the family’s life, but it was about 7 years ago, says Big Boy, that the brothers officially became a group and dubbed themselves WanMor.

“I remember the exact moment we officially became a group,” he says. “It was at my 13th birthday party when we sang in front of almost 200 guests. The response was amazing and our mom decided we should make it official.”

Since then, the brothers have spent their childhood in an extraordinary whirlwind. “We are proud to say some of our greatest achievements have been performing for “America’s Got Talent,” “Little Big Shots,” “America’s Most Musical Family” and singing the National Anthem for the Rangers, 76ers and Clippers,” Big Boy says.

In between, Chulo says, they try to make time to be normal kids. At least, as normal as it gets when you’re regularly appearing on national TV and at professional sports games. “Being regular kids is kind of hard right now,” he says, “but we still make time to do our favorite things like basketball, football, reading and playing video games.”

The quartet is also continuing to release new music.

“Our biggest dream,” Chulo says, “is to travel the world and entertain people with our music.”

 

Zoe Sullivan | 16 years old | Collingswood

After playing her first season last year with the Collingswood Panthers, Zoe Sullivan was not content simply counting the days until her second season with her high school’s JV field hockey team. She played in a competitive league and attended a skills camp to get in peak shape for the season that is now – finally – in full swing.

“I’ve always been an athlete,” says Zoe, 16, noting that she played field hockey for a few years when she was very young. But when she didn’t grow as fast as her peers, her parents decided other sports – including cheerleading – might be a bit safer. It wasn’t just concern about injuries with the fast-moving sport, says her mother Kim Brooks. They wanted their daughter to be treated like any other player, not as the girl with Down syndrome.

When Zoe didn’t make the high school cheerleading squad (although she is an accomplished member of the South Jersey Storm “Twisters CheerAbilities Team,”) her PE teacher, who is also the field hockey coach, encouraged her to return to the sport. “I was a little bit nervous,” she recalls, “but I said yes.”

Before she joined, the team had a meeting where they learned about Down syndrome. That was the extent of preparation. From the start, Zoe says, she belonged. Beyond the thrill of playing, she loves the traditions, including team dinners, “secret sisters” and bus rides. Teammates turned into friends on and off the field and the whole group showed up to a local Buddy Walk to support Zoe and the Down syndrome community last fall.

The Panthers had a good season, with Zoe playing in every game. She took the Panthers’ loss in their final match hard. In a social media post accompanying a photo of Zoe being comforted by her coach after the game, Brooks describes her daughter’s emotional outpouring as “a testament to what it feels like to belong for the very first time in your life.”

 

Sammy Salvano | 15 years old | Medford

When Sammy Salvano unwrapped his 13th birthday present, he had no way of knowing it would change the direction of his life.

“I was given a 3D printer,” says Sammy, 15, a Medford resident. “I’d never used one, but I watched a bunch of videos and just kind of taught myself.”

He was still learning the ins and outs of 3D printing when his friend, Ewan Kirby, asked if Sammy could give him a hand. Literally.

Ewan was born without most of the fingers on his left hand, and while he had a prosthetic one, Sammy says, “he never used it because he said it was bulky and heavy.” The pair started coming up with ideas for a 3D-printed prosthesis.

“He said he wanted to be able to move his hand around, and he wanted it to be light,” Sammy says. “I looked up tons of pictures and plans from other people, and started messing around and modifying things to fit his hand.”

It took a whole summer of trial and error before Sammy was able to present Kirby with a fully functional hand. “In between the joints, I used pins and strings that attach to the wrist,” he says. “When you bend it, the whole hand moves.”

What began as a project to benefit a friend has helped Sammy figure out that he wants to pursue a career in engineering – and maybe even in prosthetics design.

“I got invited to tour a company called MedEast Bionics,” he says. During his visit, Sammy was shown around the fabrication area and saw a man take his first steps in a new prosthetic leg. This summer he worked as an intern, the youngest in the company’s history.

The experience sealed the deal for Sammy, who plans to study biomechanical engineering.

“It’s something I’ve just always liked,” says the Shawnee High School 9th grader. “The fact that it can change lives just makes it even cooler.”

 

Leeah Davis | 7 years old | Camden

Every night before bed, Leeah Davis and her mom read books together. They enjoy all kinds, from nonfiction to fairy tales. But when Leeah asked for a book about hair – specifically, about the dreadlocks (or locs) that she and her mom both have – the pair couldn’t find anything.

“So I asked my mom: Could we make one?”

Davis’ mom said yes, of course, and the pair started to work on the storyline for what would ultimately become “Leeah’s Lovely Locs,” the book they created and published with a local illustrator. The story stars Leeah, who takes readers through her nighttime hair care routine, including moisturizing her locs, tying them up and covering them with a scarf to make sure they look good for school the next day.

Leeah, a second grader at Camden’s Forest Hill Elementary School, says it makes her sad when she can’t find books that have characters who look like her. “Leeah’s Lovely Locs” is her first step toward changing that. And she and her mom don’t plan to stop at just one book.

“The next one is about a trip to the salon,” says Leeah, who boxes and plays football. It will feature not just her and her locs, but other kids with different hair textures and styles, too. With her mother Sharde Taylor, a holistic empowerment coach, the 2 recently launched Leeah’s Lovely Locs hair care line, starting with the books and accessories aimed at young people learning to take care of their hair.

“I wanted to see a kid like me in a book,” Leeah says. “Now other kids can see that too.”

 

Jessie Ravitz | 17 years old | Voorhees

Jessie Ravitz started selling jewelry when she was around 6 years old. She and her brother got into rainbow loom bracelets when they were popular and would set up sidewalk sales down the shore, with the money going to local charities.

Since then, jewelry-making has meant so much more to her. It’s been a creative outlet, a chance to develop a brand, and it has helped her deal with body-image issues she’s wrestled with since middle school.

“I’m very open with my own story,” says Jessie, now 17 and a rising junior at Moorestown Friends School. “I went through an eating disorder and struggled badly with mental health this year. It’s something I’m really looking to include in my business moving forward.”

In the early years, she’d collect supplies – beads, string and other bits and pieces – on regular trips to the craft store with her parents, then sell her jewelry through their Facebook pages. By middle school, after creating an Instagram account to display her Charmed by Jessie creations, business started booming. During the pandemic, she upped her game, adding a website and selling on Etsy. Soon her jewelry was appearing on celebrities, including members of the Biden family, actress Heather Morris, and even popular Peloton instructors. She has more than 3,000 Instagram followers.

After her grandfather died of Covid in 2020, she donated a portion of her proceeds toward Covid relief funds. Then last year, Jessie created the “I Choose” bracelet, a beaded reminder for people that, despite their struggles, they still have control over the way they react to hardship. All profits from the piece support mental health causes.

“It feels like a new era for me and my business,” she says. “It’s about accepting who you are, acknowledging your self-worth, and trying to stay positive. I don’t know what the future holds, but this year I’m focused on showing people it’s ok to feel the way you feel, and no one is alone.”

October 2022
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