HV060- Getting Out

Jesse Jean with Teri and Toni

Photo by Katie Davis:
Jesse Jean with Teri and Toni.

Hearing Voices from NPR®
060 Getting Out: The Education of Jesse Jean
Host: Katie Davis of Neighborhood Stories
Airs week of: 2010-05-05 (Originally: 2009-06-03)

Getting Out: The Education of Jesse Jean (52:00 mp3):

“Getting Out” (52:00) Katie Davis

Go to school, keep your grades up, go to college. That’s what we tell kids — over and over. What if just leaving your apartment, and walking up the block is risky? What if it feels safer to stay home, play video games, keep a low profile. When you do go out, head somewhere safe, like the teen center, the basketball court. That was the world of African American teenager, Jesse Jean.

Jesse's self-portrait, painted in the fall of 2001
Jesse’s self-portrait
Fall 2001.)

Jesse lived a half a block from host Katie Davis in their Washington DC neighborhood. He was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private boarding school and brave enough to take it. Katie kept in touch with Jesse, as he moved into this new world. We hear three stories covering seven years, starting in summer, 2001.

Jesse’s Stories on NPR: 2002 Turning the Corner (photos) | 2004 Beyond Myself (photos) | 2008 An Urban Teen Beats The Odds.

Bookmark and Share
« | HV NEWS | »
Comments (16)

What an uplifting story! This is inspiration for all boys and those who might be reluctant in getting involved. Thank you great journalism.

Comment added by Amy Husarich on 06.06.09

This was a wonderful story. I loved hearing through Jesse’s own voice and presentation how he changed over the years. And his tutors can feel wonderful about the great impact that had on one person — who in turn will carry it forward. Thank you so much for presenting this inspiring reporting.

Comment added by Sally Wendkos Olds on 06.07.09

Superb story don’t hear these types of stories in the press was highly interested. Love you guys stories and NPR.

Comment added by Robert on 06.07.09

I couldn’t stop listening and had to hold back the tears several times. You can actually hear Jesse leaving his old shell behind and becoming a man from year to year. Thank you sharing his transformation – a fantastic report. I couldn’t be happier for Jesse and wish him the best of luck in these hard times.

Comment added by Rachel on 06.07.09

Jesse’s story is a beacon of hope to others. Toni and Terry saw the potential and Jesse did the work to turn his life around. Thank you Hearing Voices and NPR for telling us the story. I look forward to hearing it again on 10 June.

Comment added by CURRY on 06.07.09

What a fantastic story! It was wonderful to hear Jesse’s journey in his own words, struggling to find himself in an variety of settings. Having worked with “at risk” students over the last 25 years, it is rewarding to hear from a student who was labeled “at risk” and made choices that made all the difference. An amazing young man!

Comment added by Shawn Moriarty on 06.07.09

Great story! Very moving. I was always looking for materials that would engage the students when I was a substitute in West Oakland. This would be perfect.

Comment added by Linda on 06.07.09

I was really moved by Jessie’s story. Katie’s interweaving of Jessie’s comments and those of his teachers and mentors over the years created a vivid mind-picture of this story of chance, courage and change. Where did Jessie’s desire to stay out of trouble come from and where did his mentor’s intuition and commitment come from?
Could it just boil down to a fortuitous meeting of three exceptional people? Regardless, bravo to the writer and the wonderful people in this story.

Comment added by Patricia Reville on 06.07.09

This is what society needs more of today, and everyday, commitment and understanding in the long term. The previous comments all talk about this as a story, I would rather say this is a piece of American History. Jesse may not become president and Toni may not win any awards but that doesn’t matter, this is people and society at its best. Each of us helping each other and being able to accept someone else’s help. Thanks to Hearing Voices for learning of Jesse, and sticking to his life and trials for all of these years.

Comment added by Corey on 06.07.09

I sat in my car in the Target parking lot unable to move until this absolutely wonderful story was over. Thank you, Jesse, for sharing your life.

Comment added by Jamel on 06.08.09

We underestimate the strength of the human spirit. His corner in DC is 4 blocks from where I live now. This makes me want to sit and talk with every young man I pass on my way to work.

Comment added by Jesse D. on 06.11.09

Wow. I sat in my car parked in the driveway until this story was over. Amazing, moving, inspirational and uplifting. It’s wonderful to hear some good news about damaged kids who overcome such daunting odds. Thank you for this piece; it chronicles a brilliant life and highlights some of the best aspects of being human.

Comment added by Carol B on 10.15.09

I just listened to this story on my local NPR station in CA. Such an inspiring story — in a realistic way. I’m just about to forward the story to my friend in PA who adopted three older children from Ethiopia. I think there’s a great deal to learn from Jesse’s story. Thank you.

Comment added by Parastou on 05.08.10

As a successful black person that had two black parents who pushed me to excel in academics, sent me to the best schools and who woke me up every morning, pushed me to do my home work and were there for me when I need it I was disappointed that NPR was unable to find a black kid raised by black parents to do this story about.

Unfortunately I could not shake the image as I listened that this is yet another, white women rescue poor black kid and allow him to succeed (always boys BTW), because the black people around him did not care, or push him to do the same.

The truth is that most successful blacks in this country come from black families, both rich and poor that push their kids to do well in life and in school, from black communities and black churches that also help kids do well in school and keep out of trouble.

Although the grandmother took in the child when his parents die, and was very sick at the time of the story all we hear about her is that she did not care for him, and that she stole his money for school. There were no interviews with her or with his extended family.

I also found it interesting that the mentors did not seem to bother asking the family if they could get guardianship, something I think the family would have agreed to as they seemed to want him to have a chance in life, nope they went right for the lawsuit!

Apparently, according to this story, he raised himself from the age of 2 all by himself. What I also find interesting is that in that same neighborhood, there might have been kids with much higher grades, and who went to school every day (because their black parents working 2 jobs, in a poor neighborhood made them), but who did not get the chance he did to get a stellar education, and who may not do as well in life because of it.

A Study of Academically High Achieving, Economically Challenged African American Young Men

John F. Young

Teachers College, Columbia University



“Barbarian (1993), Frieberg (1993), Rutter (1987), and Werner (1989) maintain that many African American males learn and succeed in school despite circumstances that include low socioeconomic status minimal teacher expectations, and inadequate representations of their successes. These young men overcome the barriers of economic disenfranchisement and social ostracism to flourish academically. They recognize the structural constraints in society, but they become determined not to allow these barriers to impede their social mobility (Conchas, 2006).

Achieving the American dream is very real for them. Individual determination, hard work, effort, and support are key ingredients high achieving African American males believe will assist them in overcoming obstacles to become successful (Conchas, 2006; Gayles, 2005, Wright, 1996). Not only do they survive their high school experiences, some excel academically to the point where they earn admission to the most selective colleges in the United States.

Research is needed to focus on African American young men who are both economically challenged and academically successful in order to shed light on how they develop and mature in American society. It is critical for me that their lives as real human beings who experience successes, failures, disappointments, triumphs, and set backs represent the full range of characteristics, attitudes, behaviors, values, and beliefs that comprise all individuals.

Influences of the family, particularly the role of the mother as the first teacher, early identification in the 1st and 3rd grade for gifted programs in the elementary school, the importance of the African American church community, participation in extra-curricular activities, and the importance of peer and teacher support were some of topics the participants felt positively affected their ability to succeed academically in school. All of the participants agreed with the statement made by the oldest participant that “I could not have made it in high school, let alone excel without the help and support of my family and other people in my community.” This revelation supports the popular adage that “It takes a village to raise a child.” that is quoted widely today.

The study also revealed that many of the participants had meaningful relationships with their peers, and two related that they were considered members of the “in crowd” and were elected members of the student government. The oldest participant said that a few of the girls in his class made reference to him as the “sexy nerd.” One participant had little to no contact with peers because he spent most of his out-of-school time involved with church activities (Peoples, 2003). His experience coincides with the literature that asserts the importance of the church in some academically high achieving students.

An intriguing commentary made by all four participants was that while enrolled in AP courses, they did not spend a large part of their time studying but still managed to earn top grades. Consequently, I inferred that persistence was not a necessarily major factor in determining their school success. Additionally, all four had a very strong awareness of themselves, pride in their African American heritage, happy memories of their high school experiences, and a sense of obligation to implement their intellectual gifts and talents to help the broader African American community.

Comment added by Dee on 05.09.10

BTW my spelling and grammar errors above have less to do with my lack of education and more to do with the fact that I was furious when I heard the story, and was still very angry when I wrote the comment. Apologies for that.

I am glad Jessie, was given a chance, but to once again make a story about a young black male succeeding only because white women came into the picture, when in reality most successful black males come from all black families that work so hard to give them a chance in life often going without themselves, or working many more hours than they should, is amazingly irritating to me.

Anyhow, you can all go back to feeling all warm an fuzzy about the story now….

Comment added by Dee on 05.09.10

This story really touched my heart. I’m so glad that Jesse’s story ended on a good note and that he was able to succeed with the help of his tutors. Regardless of color, which I think didn’t have all that much effect on the story, this had more to do with helping a child without the skills or support system to set or achieve the academic or life goals that Jesse has. I applaud anyone who can overcome their background, as Jesse did, and those who help children like him.

Comment added by Dixie Meeks on 05.12.10

Leave a comment:


(required) (will be hidden)

(Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> )