Every year I talk to my students about how sociology can change their lives. It probably sounds cliche. But I also imagine that it is easy to blow off such an idea when you already have an abundant life. Students from an upper-middle class school with little poverty, little violent crime have an easy time overlooking their lives and all they have to be thankful for. The following story is a reminder of both how much most of us have to be thankful for and also how sociology and self-reflection can affect a life. To listen to this story click here.
Seven years ago, Jesse Jean was failing high school. The African-American teenager from Washington, D.C., had no family support. He missed two-thirds of the 10th grade and was surrounded by what he called a "thug mentality." Then two women from the local teen center were assigned as his mentors. They arranged a scholarship at a boarding school in New England and told Jean that attending was his last chance. Jean refused — until he heard that 99 percent of the students at the boarding school enrolled in college. So he went. He got up for class every day and his F's changed to C's.
His mentors stuck with him. One became his legal guardian, and they were the only people he invited to his college graduation. In June, the 24-year-old Jean received his diploma from Ohio Wesleyan University. While he was there, Jean studied anthropology and sociology and thought hard about where he came from — and how he avoided what seemed like a predestined life of violence and crime.
Jean's mother and father died in a murder-suicide when he was 2 years old. His two favorite cousins went to jail. Friends got high every day, but Jesse didn't. "It was ascribed in me when I was born," he says. "I wasn't afraid to go against the grain, not have people accept me fully. There were times I was alienated." Jean says he spent many years as a loner — a protection mechanism.
Why did Jean's sister and brother drop out of school, but not him? How was he able to accept help from his tutors, Teri Ellison and Toni Hustead, two white women from a radically different world? Read more here.