Jailynn Smith

Student, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School | Atlanta

Jailynn Smith calls herself a homebody, and her love language is quality time. By saying yes to The Diocese of Atlanta pilgrimage to Ghana in March 2023, she traveled more than 10,000 miles round trip in two weeks that changed her life. It was the first Cape Coast pilgrimage to include students from an Episcopal school in the Atlanta diocese.

“Part of growing up into the real world is doing things that are uncomfortable, so you can find your way in the world,” said Smith, a Class of 2024 member from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. “Going into another country, being far away from my parents and everything that I know—that was a good experience to understand who I am by myself.”

For Smith, a member of People Of God’s Choice Church in Stockbridge, her biggest spiritual takeaways from the pilgrimage came from a few steps, and finding more of her identity as an African American.

During a tour of a slave dungeons, she felt dizzy and sweaty, both from a stomach bug and the enormity of history. “I pushed through and finished,” she said. “I felt like that strength that was 100% God.”

She participated in an ancestral ritual in the Assin Manso Slave River, where West Africans who had been abducted from their homes bathed before entering the slave trade. After praying with the Rt. Rev. George Kotei Neequaye, suffragan bishop of Accra, for clear sight and honest words, Smith chose to walk the rest of the way with the spirit of a cousin who had recently died. “It was very clear that we needed to thank our ancestors for everything they did for us to be here,” Smith said. “It was very important to take my cousin on this trip because I didn’t get a chance to thank him.”

Smith is in flight school and plans to study aeronautical engineering in college; the pilgrimage grounded her commitment to expand and share the good she inherited.

“I recognize my privilege, and you don’t hear that much coming from a Black girl in America,” she said. “I thank God for all my family because the wisdom that’s passed down, the mistakes made—we learn from it all. So I thank God for allowing me to have this much family. I thank him for life.”