Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)
During my first week at Cristo Rey Jesuit, I wrote about a trip to Loyola Blakefield to join other teachers from Jesuit schools in Baltimore and hear Cedric Jennings speak. Mr. Jennings was the subject of Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen documenting his journey from Ballou Senior High School in southeastern Washington D.C. to Brown University.
At the time of his speech I had not read the book, but Mr. Jennings highlighted some very important points for teachers in inner-city schools. He told us that it was important for students to hear that they CAN succeed, reach beyond their comfort zones, and be pushed to grow. He encouraged us to stay positive and create an ethos of success in school and to be strong, believable, and consistently “there”. Relating to the book, he told us to help our students strive and reach for the unseen plateau.
One thing, however, that Mr. Jennings said that really hit home was to think in terms of your own child. He said to think, “I would have done that to/for my own child.” He pointed to his own mother’s guidance and steadfast love as one of the major reasons that he was able to reach so high in a place where most never dreamed of going to college and successful students were considered targets.
Now, after reading the book, I am able to see more of where Mr. Jennings was coming from in his talk. The biggest thing that I took from the book, however, was how difficult it was for him to adjust to life at Brown. Brown, at least in 1998 when the book was written, was not exactly a school known for its diversity and most of Mr. Jennings’s peers were Caucasians from suburbia. He struggled at first, finding himself behind educationally and ill equipped to interact socially in a college setting. But as his time at Brown went on, through his unbelievable will to succeed, he was able to persevere to graduate and make some life-long friends along the way.
So where does this apply in my work? Luckily, the students at Cristo Rey Jesuit don’t have to deal with all of the same things that Cedric Jennings had to. Luckily, at Cristo Rey, success is an expectation and encouraged, not a target for ridicule. On the other hand, however, many students at Cristo Rey must deal with many of the same outside influences that Mr. Jennings dealt with. I’ve made a concerted effort the past few weeks to remember that my students come from very different backgrounds than what I am used to. They are from low-income families, they live in the city, and most are not Caucasian. And that’s just on the surface. In many cases, the students have not had quality instruction in school up until coming to Cristo Rey. As I work with these devoted, persistent, and smart students, it’s easy to forget that, many times, their life experiences are very different from mine.
That being said, I see so much potential in the students at Cristo Rey. They have been given the chance to rise above the many negative influences that they face each day and most of them are taking advantage of it. They are realizing that they are smart, capable young people with bright futures if they continue to work hard. Sure, I’m concerned for them and their future and how they will adapt to college life, but if anyone can do it, it’s these students.
They may have and need hope in the unseen, but I have hope in what I see in them.