Jayden Williams, A Legacy Spotlight
Legacy alumnus Jayden Williams' love of writing began with creating short stories and poems in 7th grade. At first, writing was a chance to play around with the imaginary characters he created in fiction. Then, two teachers at Legacy — and Jayden's mom — showed him it could be much more than that.
"I distinctly remember my mom telling me that I'm my own business," Jayden (2002) says. "She was always instilling stuff in me about pursuing different ideas to create new streams of income." Those ideas flourished in the academically challenging and supportive environment at Legacy Early College. Jayden came to Legacy when it was still called Fuller Normal School. Back then, students met in trailers on a different campus.
"It didn't look like your average elementary school," Jayden said. Coming from a traditional public school, Jayden welcomed the changes he experienced at Legacy, but he didn't find them all easy. "At my old school, I wore whatever I wanted," Jayden recalled. "At Legacy, I wore a uniform. I guess it saved my mom some money on clothes."
Uniforms weren't the only difference — daily PE, the focus on academic success, and a nurturing community came with the new school. Over the years, both Jayden and his mom grew so committed to the Legacy community that he remained in the school even after the family moved to Easley. When 6th grade rolled around, Jayden's mom elected to keep her son at Legacy instead of moving him closer to home.
One year later, Mom's decision earned its reward in a big way. In 2014, when Jayden transitioned to the upper campus, the pristine athletic fields and five-star cafeteria hadn't been built yet. "It was kind of a mess," he recalled. But fields and food don't make a school. People do.
In 7th grade, Jayden met Legacy's middle school English instructor — "definitely one of the best teachers I ever had." This teacher inspired his students, but he also challenged them. He set high standards and dared his classes to exceed them. Jayden took the dare. "One day, I got the idea of writing a book," he said.
Like many middle schoolers, Jayden was enamored with fiction. He dreamed of writing a story about his high school journey — which hadn't happened yet — but peopled with imaginary characters and events. He got bogged down in the dialogue. "When I was writing it, everything seemed okay," he said. "Then, I went back to read it a few months later, and everything sounded horrible! I wanted to quit."
Every writer's fears started speaking in Jayden's head. Why did you think you could do this? You were dumb to think you could write anything. What would you have to say that anyone would want to read? That book petered out.
For many 7th graders, a budding writing career would have stopped there. Jayden, however, couldn't let his dream go. He had already announced to his mom that he was writing a book. She was surprised at his ambition, but she didn't let him renege on his plan. "Follow the process," she told him. Like most moms, she was right, but that didn't make writing a book any easier.
"There were moments when I just wanted to stop doing it," he said. But Jayden didn't stop… not for good, anyway. The book grew and developed alongside its middle-school author. Sometimes, it lay untouched for stretches at a time. At other times, he would work on it with his mom's help.
"I played cello, was in Beta Club and on student council, and did track for a little bit," Jayden recalled. But the book wouldn't leave him alone.
Jayden eventually finished middle school and went on to high school, still at Legacy. Another Legacy teacher picked up the baton the English teacher had carried in middle school — Ms. Neena Kumar, the AP biology teacher. "At first, I thought, 'Why am I taking this class?" Jayden said. It seemed too hard, too challenging. "She was always pushing us."
Ms. Kumar proved to be a great encourager, though, not only academically but personally as well. Her influence seeped into the pages of Jayden's book, which was still growing. "I got so tired of looking over those manuscripts and editing." Jayden shakes his head now. "It was such a long process." Turning his ideas on the page, Jayden ground through the tediousness of editing until the book had the professional shine he was looking for. In 10th grade, his hard work paid off. Slaying the Spirit of Fear got published. Working with his mom, Jayden blended biological, psychological, faith-based, and personal truths about fear into a practical guide to overcoming anxiety. His mom's name was on the cover, receiving much-deserved co-author credit.
Like they had ever since third grade, Jayden's Legacy family turned out in support of their new author. The school hosted his first book signing. Jayden spoke, autographed books, and devoured snacks. Ms. Kumar and the other teachers showed up. The school leadership congratulated him."It is like icing on the cake for me," Jayden said, "really celebratory."
Jayden continued to nurture his writing career. He and his mom also co-authored Justwrite: A Quick Guide to Writing and Publishing Your Book Independently. A year later, the mother-and-son writing team Jayden published twelve months' worth of books on creating and executing a life plan. His new writing career didn't stop Jayden from excelling academically, and he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Legacy. "I thought we were going to go out with a bang," he said. "Then COVID hit."
Stuck at home during the pandemic, Jayden studied, wrote, and recorded music, eventually releasing his first single, “God Always Wins” in August 2020 for his YouTube channel, Jayden Williams. Having written a book on the nature and behavior of fear, Jayden knew how to handle the emotions that came with COVID's lockdowns. Becoming a recording artist had always been one of his dreams, and he was able to achieve that goal even in the midst of a pandemic. Since then, Jayden has ministered through music at various events across the upstate, been featured on gospel radio stations, and released two singles in 2021.
As for college?
"I wanted to go to a school like Legacy," he said, "a place that values their students."
So today, he's pursuing a degree in psychology and Spanish at Furman University on a full scholarship.