Dr. Jenkins shares his story with Bridge students at Livingstone
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone CollegeNews Service
SALISBURY — Although he has been a college president or chancellor for 26 years, has a Ph.D. in biology education from Purdue University and has met with former presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Walker Bush, things weren’t always easy for Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr.
Far from it.
Jenkins shared his story July 7 in Tubman Theater to about 100 students in Livingstone College’s Bridge Program. He discussed losing his father in an accident at a young age and how his mother was left to raise seven children — including a 16-month-old — alone. But just as he intended, Jenkins also gave the students the “bright side” of his story.
Despite their childhood circumstances, the Jenkins children all went to college and have done exceptionally well. Not only is Jenkins Livingstone’s top administrative leader, but one of his sisters is a gastroenterologist and one of his brothers is a retired Army major who teaches in Virginia.
The key, Jenkins told the students, was education.
It was the second time Jenkins spoke to the Bridge students. In a previous meeting he told them how fortunate they are to be part of a program that, in essence, gives them a second chance.
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 students etiquette and other things they won’t necessarily learn in a classroom but need to know.
Jenkins implemented the Bridge Program when he came to Livingstone. In fact, when approached by board of trustees members about accepting the college’s top 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.
Jenkins didn’t spend too much time on himself when he addressed the students. In fact, he shared his story during a brief question and answer session after his lecture. During his remarks he told the students about Frazier Benjamin “Ben” Beatty, a North Rowan High School graduate who came from a poor family but is now a public health adviser for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Beatty was featured on the front page of the July 7 edition of The Salisbury Post.
Displaying the article, Jenkins told the students that Beatty said anything was possible when people believed in themselves and worked hard. He also said Beatty discussed the important role education has played in his life.
“That’s why you are here right now, to get your education,” Jenkins said. “If you get your education, maybe one day your local newspaper will write about you.”
Jenkins isn’t one to sugarcoat things, so he challenged the students about doing what’s right.
“Don’t come here and reaffirm the stereotypes,” Jenkins said. “Defy the odds. My job is to help set the environment for you. Your job is to figure out the right way to make it here and ultimately to graduate.”
Jenkins then had the students write the following statement: “There are 1,001 legitimate excuses for failure, but failure is failure. The world is looking for those who can succeed in spite of the odds.”
Joe Briscoe, assistant director of the Bridge Program, said Jenkins’ lecture was a testament of his commitment and passion for Livingstone College’s mission.
“Dr. Jenkins took time out of his schedule to bring nuggets of wisdom that these young people need to hear,” Briscoe said. “I wish I had experienced something like this when I was in college. Dr. Jenkins is a walking example that it can be done. I think by talking to the students he’s re-establishing something that has been lost in our culture — black males reaching back and helping the kids.”
Briscoe said he hoped the significance of Jenkins’ visit wasn’t lost on the students.
Apparently, it wasn’t.
“I actually found it pretty nice of him to take time out to talk to us because he does have a busy schedule,” said Bridge student Karla Rivero, 19, a 2011 North Rowan graduate. “I found his speech inspiring, especially when he talked about the North Rowan graduate because he came from nothing and now he’s successful.”
Reggie Glenn, who publicly answered one of Jenkins’ questions during the lecture, agreed it was nice of the president to talk to the students.
“It shows integrity on his part to come speak to us,” said Glenn, 22, a 2007 graduate of Ashbrook High School in Gastonia. “He’s not just saying he’s glad we’re here. He’s showing up. He made me feel very welcomed to be here, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
Glenn said he thinks the majority of the Bridge students will succeed at Livingstone College — and in life.
“Most of us understand the reason we’re here,” Glenn said. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do in high school and didn’t get the grades or GPA we needed, and now that we have this second chance we’re not going to waste it.”