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Haskell graduate wants to use his education to advocate for his tribal community


Jaylon Romine

Editor’s note: July is Minority Mental Health Month. This year's theme, Be the Source for Better Health: Improving Health Outcomes Through Our Cultures, Communities, and Connections, is about understanding how the unique environments, cultures, histories, and circumstances of racial and ethnic minority populations impact their overall health.

 

Trauma, substance abuse and mental illness are part of Jaylon Romine’s family history. They are part of his history.

 

But it doesn’t define him or his family.

 

“It’s part of our past, but it’s not who we are as a people,” he said.

 

Jaylon is a member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma and a descendant of the Kiowa Tribe and the Chickasaw Nation.

 

He graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University in May and spoke at the commencement ceremony. During his graduation remarks, he talked about his family and personal history. Including the time when a close friend of his died from a drug overdose.  That was a turning point for Jaylon, who was 13 when he started using drugs.

 

“I thought, I don’t want to end up like that,” said Jaylon, who was 22 when his friend died.

 

Jaylon had a cousin who had played basketball at Haskell, so he was aware of the school. He decided to apply.

 

Jaylon started taking classes at Haskell at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. His first three semesters were online. He moved to Lawrence in the fall of 2021. He immediately felt at home.

 

“Everyone was so welcoming, loving and kind,” he said. “My hometown of Eufaula (Oklahoma) and Haskell are the only two places that I felt like I truly belonged somewhere. That’s how it felt at Haskell from the first time I stepped on campus.”

 

One of the first classes Jaylon took at Haskell was taught by Sierra Two Bulls. The class was Chemical Dependency in the Native American.

 

“That class was my family in a nutshell,” Jaylon said. “She talked about the resources available in town, like Bert Nash. She also inspired me to look into social work.”

 

Jaylon received an Associate of Arts Degree in Social Work and a Bachelor’s Degree in Indigenous and American Indian Studies from Haskell and is planning to attend law school. This summer he is an intern in the Office of Tribal Relations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. Even though he plans to go to law school, he wants to focus on social work advocacy and access to mental health services in Native communities.

 

Jaylon was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder when he was 22. He said because of the stigma of mental illness, it can be hard to ask for help.

 

“Mental illness is something that’s prevalent in my family, but it’s not talked about that much in the Native community,” he said.

 

Jaylon spoke openly about his own mental health journey during his commencement speech at the Haskell graduation. He said one reason he decided to attend Haskell and earn a college degree was so he could work to help mitigate the effects of substance abuse and mental health issues in his family and his tribal community.

 

“I want to use my education to show my family that we Muscogee people can change our traumatic family and tribal histories through education,” he said.

 

Jaylon is grateful for the educational opportunities he had at Haskell.

 

“Everyone was so welcoming, loving and kind,” he said. “I have nothing but good things to say. For me, I had a great experience.”

 

Jaylon represented the university when he served as the 2023-2024 Haskell Brave.

 

“It was an amazing honor to represent the university everywhere I went,” he said.

 

Growing up, Jaylon would hear stories about the Sky People, who live amongst the clouds and the stars. His ancestors believed they will return to the stars after their time on Earth is over. He referenced the Sky People during his commencement speech.

 

“My fellow graduates, whether you are leaving Lawrence for good or if you are coming back in the fall: Remember your traditions. Remember your natural responsibility. Remember your power and shoot for the stars.

 

“They are closer than you think.”


Jaylon was voted the 2023-2024 Haskell Brave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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