Oct. 3, 2006
Taj Henley is a junior outside linebacker on the Ohio football team. When he is not causing chaos for opposing offenses, Henley is making a difference off the field.
Bobcat outside linebacker Taj Henley's high school athletic accolades are what you would expect from a collegiate athlete. Taj was a four-year letterwinner in football and basketball. He totaled 301 tackles with 32 sacks, earned all-district accolades twice, was named all-region and honorable mention all-metro, and was the team Defensive MVP his junior and senior campaigns. Taj was also the point guard on his basketball team and led George Wythe High School to the state championship game in 2002, where his team lost a close game to Cave Spring High School and sharp-shooter J.J. Redick. However, when Class President Taj Henley graduated out of George Wythe High School in Richmond, Va., he was more than just a great athlete. He was an inspiration and a developed leader.
When Taj was 15 years old, the Richmond Boys and Girls Club came to his neighborhood and he began attending the after school programs in the Hillside Community. Because he was one of the older members, he developed into a role model for the younger members. Richmond Boys and Girls Club District Leader Wyatt Kingston noticed his influence.
"Taj is the epitome of the term role model," Kingston said. "He decided at a young age to listen to the right people and because of that he molded into a great leader."
Shortly after joining, Taj began to help the younger children with their homework and became such a mentor for the kids that the Boys and Girls Club offered him a job his freshman year of high school. Taj then started to design and implement after-school programs like the Drop Everything and Read Program. He also helped run existing programs like the Key Club and Homework Club, which were created to make a fun environment for kids to complete their schoolwork.
Taj's accomplishments with the Richmond Boys and Girls Club were not overlooked. Through his dedication and achievements with the organization, he was awarded the Richmond Youth of the Year, the State of Virginia Youth of the Year and was runner-up for the Southeast Youth of the Year. The awards are given to the outstanding individuals of the Boys and Girls Club nationwide.
"The awards were a nice gesture for all of my work," Henley said, "but I would have given the same amount of time and effort for those kids even if there were no awards or scholarships."
Taj not only inspired the younger members, but he also inspired his peers.
"Taj's hard work led to his own awards," Kingston said, "but his leadership and mentoring abilities also encouraged two of his peers in our Boys and Girls Club to win the State Youth of the Year Award."
Taj is now in his fourth year at Ohio, but when he is home in Richmond he finds time to re-dedicate himself to the community. In addition to assisting with the Boys and Girls Club, Taj now also commits his summers as a historian at three national parks in Richmond. He has been employed for three years by The National Park Service as a historian for the Chimborazo Medical Museum, the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and the Tredegar Civil War Museum. Taj's duties as an historian at the museums included giving informational tours to patrons and answering all questions regarding the museums and history of the sites.
"Chimborazo was the largest medical site for the Confederacy during the Civil War," Henley said. "Today it has a collection of equipment used by the doctors and nurses of the time. The Maggie L. Walker site is a dedication to (Walker's) great achievements as an African American woman in post-Civil War Richmond. Her utmost claim to history was that she was the first woman in the United States to charter a bank. The Tredegar Civil War Museum is dedicated to the artillery and ammunition production site that was at Tredegar Iron Works. This site produced over 1,100 cannons for the confederacy during the civil war and was operated by whites, blacks, slaves, and free slaves."
Mike Andrus, supervisory park ranger at Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, could not help but notice the benefit of having Taj on board.
"Taj was always the first person to introduce himself to the visitors and he became a student of Richmond history," Andrus said. "He knew and cared about the history in Richmond and the patrons gained an understanding from his enthusiasm and knowledge."
Taj has learned that an understanding of history can change a person's perspective on life.
"When I first started working in the museums I saw a lot of people wearing confederate apparel and I was upset that people were still holding certain beliefs," Henley said, "but after working in the museums, I began to understand the history of the Civil War and what role Richmond had. I realized that people were wearing confederate apparel not to be prejudice, but to pay their respects for their ancestors that fought in the war. Being a historian in Richmond has taught me the great pride and amazing history the South has. We should all be proud of where we come from and if you are not, then study up on the history and you will discover and understand the pride of your home."
Whatever Taj ends up doing after his career as an Ohio student-athlete, those around him are sure he will make an impact in whatever he does. The glowing words of one former employer say everything you need to know about the future of this Bobcat.
"Taj is an extremely personable, positive, and approachable young man," Andrus said. "All-in-all he is an outgoing and excellent employee. I know he will do great things at Ohio University and in his life."