By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone CollegeNews Service
The students enrolled in Livingstone College’s Bridge Program have been given a second chance to prove they’re intellectually capable of earning a college degree, and it’s their responsibility to make the most of the opportunity.
Thus was the message Tuesday afternoon when President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. spoke to the Bridge students in Tubman Theater.
“This is a chance for you to demonstrate that you always had the intellectual capability and all you needed was the chance, someone to work with you, someone to say ‘I believe in you,’ ” Jenkins told the nearly 100 students. “Well, you are being given that chance right here at Livingstone College. It’s about the choices you make, and it’s about the decisions you make. Make the right choices and decisions.”
The Bridge Program was implemented at Livingstone College by Jenkins. In fact, when approached by Board of Trustees members about accepting the college’s top administrative position, Jenkins said he would consider it only if board members allowed him to create a holistic college on campus — from which The Bridge Program was spawned.
The Bridge Program is for students who had academic deficiencies in high school and who, because of their grades and SAT scores, might not be accepted at many other colleges and universities. The students come to Livingstone in the summer for a six-week, intensive program that includes classes, taught by certified teachers, in English, math, history, computers and theater. The program, which places a heavy emphasis on attitude and behavior, also involves early-morning workouts and sessions designed to teach them etiquette and other things they won’t necessarily learn in a classroom but need to know.
For example, after Jenkins spoke to the students on Tuesday, Livingstone Police Chief Gloria Blaire addressed the crowd. After that, Adrienne Johnson, a consultant/special assistant to the president, and her niece Camille P. Booth demonstrated the proper utensils to use in both informal and formal dining settings.
And on Wednesday, Dr. Herman J. Felton Jr., vice president of institutional advancement, Tim Orr, interim athletic director, Campus Minister Troy Russell and other men at Livingstone held a session for the male Bridge students titled: “Sag versus Swag,” designed to help them realize it’s unacceptable to walk around with their pants sagging and that instead, they should walk with a certain “swag” that exudes confidence. Also on Wednesday, a session titled “Classy versus Trashy” was held for female Bridge students so they could learn, among other things, the proper way a lady should dress and carry herself.
“We want these young kids to understand we care about them and truly want them to succeed,” said Bridge Program Director Sylvester Kyles, a Livingstone graduate who Jenkins said is very passionate about helping young people. “It’s not just about coming here and making good grades. We certainly expect them to do that, but we’re also trying to educate them in other ways.”
Even so, Jenkins, who has been a college president or chancellor for 26 years, is fully aware of the many pitfalls that can trap unsuspecting young adults when they first enter college. So he cautioned them against many of those pitfalls – including partying when they should be studying and skipping class just because they don’t feel like getting up – on Tuesday.
“Defy the odds. Don’t come here and reaffirm the stereotypes,” Jenkins said. “Try to make sure you’re in class on time instead of slinking in late and laying your head down on the desk while the teacher’s teaching. The challenge for you in this program is to take this opportunity that has been extended to you and to make the best of it.
“Some former students from this program have graduated with honors,” Jenkins continued. “And one former Bridge student, Eugene Brown, is doing his second internship on Capitol Hill this summer. Just because you didn’t perform to your potential in high school doesn’t mean you’re a failure. And we’re working hard to help you be all you can be but it’s like the tango: It takes two. I and my faculty and staff are ready to tango, and I promise you if you’re the other partner, then we’re going to tango all over this place.”
After Jenkins spoke, several Bridge students shook his hand and thanked him for his encouraging words.
Xavier Jones, 18, a graduate of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, and Paris Johnson, 18, a graduate of Andrews High School in High Point, said they’re excited about being in the Bridge Program.
“I need this because I really wanted to go to college and I didn’t have the necessary math requirements,” Johnson said. “One of my teachers helped me out with getting into this program.”
Jones said his mother encouraged him to go to a small school so he could better focus. He also said she told him college would help him develop better study habits.
Both students said they considered it a privilege to hear some stern, yet encouraging words from Jenkins.
“I thought he gave very good advice, very positive advice, stuff that will help us out in the future,” Johnson said.
By Laurie D. Willis