Jaylynn Conway-Hernandez maps out her month on a giant planner hanging on the wall next to her desk. It’s color-coded by themes and meticulously labeled with times depicting every day’s events, starting at 6 a.m.
Her schedule is written out weeks, sometimes months, in advance. During the school year, it was the schedule of an 18-year-old Brighton High senior, a basketball team captain, an aspiring college student, a child in the foster care system, and a mother.
“Busy is good for me. And I like it,” Conway said. “I’m not really overwhelmed, because once I have a schedule, I stick to the schedule.”
Conway, her 1-year-old son, Royal, and her foster mother, Anne Radday, were out the door of their Brookline home by 7 a.m. during the school year. They would drop off Royal at day care and pick him up after Conway’s school day and any after-school practices had concluded. In the evening, Conway would get Royal ready for bed, take care of her homework, and prep for the next morning. And that was on an average day, with no games or other commitments.
She is up to every task, a thorough organizer who takes it upon herself to make things happen — as evidenced by many of the major crossroads of her young life.
In February 2020, Conway’s parents entered her into the foster care system. Conway said she dealt with patterns of neglect from her parents for most of her life. She felt unsafe in the household but could not go to her family for help, leading to a growing disconnect that ultimately ended with her being dropped off at a courthouse at 16.
She lived in six locations, including Arlington, Brookline, Milford, and a teen parents’ program group home in Melrose, between February 2020 and August 2021. Each came with its own circumstances that made a long-term stay impossible.
Soon after entering “the system,” Conway found out she was pregnant. She struggled in school and got into fights, and needed guidance in a place where it rarely came consistently.
“I was only fighting in school and angry because of everything that was going on at home — because I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. ”And I didn’t know how to express myself because no one taught me to. So I had to learn.”
Today, Conway has a foundation of support.
Radday, who works for Tufts’s Feinstein International Center, became her foster parent in late summer of 2021 after volunteering as her court-appointed special advocate. She helps Conway manage the logistics of her schedule and plays an advisory role in raising Royal.
“She is Royal’s mom,” Radday said. “She decides what happens with Royal. What I try to do is give her some thoughts. How can I help relieve some of this pressure?”
Conway regularly sees therapists and stabilization workers, and she also works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital by participating in a paid program for young mothers. She advocates for those in underserved communities to identify mental health resources and seek out assistance.
“I think she’s taught me a lot about using the resources and just seeking and asking for help,” Radday said.
“There are times where you go with therapy, you really Zen, and you learn,” Conway said. “I took those skills and I applied them. Therapy made me a lot better because I had it for two years.”
‘“There are times where you go with therapy, you really Zen, and you learn. I took those skills and I applied them. Therapy made me a lot better because I had it for two years.”’
Jaylynn Conway-Hernandez on the support she gained after seeking out assistance as a young mother
Royal Jahan Conway was born in October 2020. He’s a loud and passionate singer who waddles around the floor, devours pasta, and plays with any toy he can find. Conway and her son attend family swim on Saturdays. He’s emblematic of another life-changing decision by Conway: To commit herself to being the best single mother she can be.
“I really admire her patience and her consistency with him,” Radday said.
“He loves singing, clapping, and dancing,” Conway said. “He’s just a happy kid, and he shows so much personality, which I love.”
Conway’s third big choice — returning to basketball — signaled her love for an outlet that had all but disappeared in her time of transition.
She joined the Brighton varsity squad in seventh grade and had scored more than 850 points by the midway point of her sophomore season.
Then the Bengals underwent a coaching change and suffered several injuries. A lack of numbers forced the team to shut down midway through the 2019-20 season. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brighton sat out 2020-21, and Conway had her child. Nearly everything had changed when she returned.
The two-time Boston City League All-Star can’t do all the things she once did on the court. From body changes from childbirth and longstanding knee issues that required postseason surgery, she has lost a degree of explosiveness.
“It’s difficult,” Conway said. “I’ve got to learn: How much do I want to jump? How much do I want to run?”
Conway adapted. Her favorite NBA players are Klay Thompson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kevin Durant — players who fought back from extended absences and returned to success. A 5-foot-9-inch guard, she developed a floater game around the basket to maximize the space she gets. She also communicated with head coach Greg Canzater, who has since been hired to coach the Bunker Hill Community College women’s team, on her needs as a player.
“I’m still trying to adapt, because when you have a kid, even after a year, it’s like your body is still recovering,” Conway said. “It just makes it a little slower, but now that I’m in the gym and I’m getting fit, it makes it a little easier.”
A mentor to freshmen
Conway sent Canzater her monthly schedule, outlining practices and games she could attend. Both recognized Royal was her top priority, and she sometimes had to miss them. But when she was available, she committed wholeheartedly.
For Canzater, Conway’s buy-in meant everything.
“I think it’s huge, because if Jaylynn doesn’t buy in . . . I think we’re having a really rough experience with some of the players and the team as a whole,” he said. “The fact that she’s so poised — and even within some of her frustrations, she’ll never take it out on the girls.”
“It’s like having — I’m not going to say a coach on the court — but she’s been with us so long that she really knows the game and she understands what it takes to be successful,” said Brighton athletic director Randolph Abraham.
Conway was one of only two returning players from the last Brighton team, and she embraced her role as a mentor for a freshman-laden roster, sending positive messages.
“They’re always fun to be around at practice, just teaching them,” Conway said. “They’re like my kids. So I’m like the mom of the group.”
Among those freshmen was Jai’Reona Brown-Carter, who had never played organized basketball until this season. She’s loving the game, in part because of Conway’s warm hallway greetings and her calming voice on the court.
“Everywhere you turn, she’s there to help,” Brown-Carter said.
Conway has another big chapter on the horizon: College. She will attend Regis in the fall, and once her knees are healthy, she intends to play Division 3 basketball. The most important factor in her college choice was finding one with an adequate support system for her and Royal.
Conway plans to study criminal justice and aspires to be a lawyer for teen mothers in situations similar to hers.
“I like to talk about things that people don’t talk about,” she said, “because when you talk about things other people really don’t hear, that gets people interested, and I like to have those conversations.”
‘“I like to talk about things that people don’t talk about, because when you talk about things other people really don’t hear, that gets people interested, and I like to have those conversations.”’
Jaylynn Conway-Hernandez on why she wants to pursue law and advocate for others in her position
Conway maximized her time as a high school senior. She was on Brighton’s yearbook committee and debate club, and made her school’s honor roll. She established a strong relationship with Abraham, who is also Brighton’s dean of students, and graduated at Fenway Park June 10. This summer, she’ll work for the town of Brookline as a day-camp counselor.
“She’s persistent,” Abraham said. “She’s definitely a go-getter.”
But Conway’s crowning achievement came on Dec. 15, when she made her long-awaited return to the hardwood. Radday and Royal sat eagerly in the stands. It was as if the results of her determination and bravery converged in a single gym.
“I’m getting chills talking about it,” Canzater said. “To know that your son is coming to watch you play your first high school game the season after just having you . . . like, it hit me all at once.”
“It was a good experience, you know?” Conway said. “My son was here to support me, and Anne was too, which plays a very important role.”