Livingstone students return to classes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
SALISBURY — Since their mother passed away in 2000, Dominique Smith and her older brother, Donte Jefferson, lived together in their southeast Washington, D.C., apartment. Jefferson was more than a brother to Smith, 18. He was the father she never knew.
When Jefferson passed away in May, Smith was all alone. Yet with a broken heart and uncertain future she was clear on one thing: She wanted to go to college.
“Even though my brother didn’t attend college he wanted the best for me,” said Smith, a freshman at Livingstone College where classes begin today. “He talked to me about going to college and making something of myself. He really wanted me to get out of D.C. I didn’t want to get out, but he wanted me to leave because he knew if I stayed in D.C. I wouldn’t be focused and I would be trying to hang out with my friends instead of going to class. He’s not here to see me in college now, but I am going to make him proud.”
Smith knows her brother will be on her mind today as she begins her journey toward a college degree. She is determined to persist to graduation.
Smith actually got a jump start on classes by attending Livingstone’s Summer Bridge Program, which was implemented by President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. when he arrived five years ago. 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.
They underwent a six-week, intensive program that included classes, taught by certified teachers, in English, math, history, computers and theater. The program, which places a heavy emphasis on attitude and behavior, also involved 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.
Smith said she entered The Bridge Program with a positive attitude because she knew it would help her be focused in mid-August when classes began. Thanks to Bridge, she is ready to get her college career underway.
That she’s even in college is quite a feat.
Smith’s mother died when she was a little girl, leaving just her and Jefferson. When he passed away May 4 she lived with Kamil Hazel, her college advisor at Friendship Collegiate Academy, a public charter school in D.C. In fact, Hazel paid for Smith’s train ticket to Salisbury so she could attend The Bridge Program, and she has offered Smith a place to lay her head when she’s away from Livingstone on break.
“Knowing Dominique’s situation I was sympathetic to it, so I felt I didn’t really have a choice except to take her in,” Hazel said. “I have a 2-year-old son, and I would want somebody to do the same thing for me. From the ninth grade through the 11th grade, Dominique wasn’t a very good student at all, and she had a very poor attitude. I took her under her my wing, and during her senior year she made the honor roll all four quarters. I think Livingstone College will be good for her because it’s a small school and people will be able to check on her and ensure she gets the help she needs.”
Bridge Program Director Sylvester Kyles said Smith’s story is inspiring.
“We’re so grateful that despite all she’s been through Dominique found her way to Livingstone College,” Kyles said. “Most people twice her age cannot imagine a world without their parents, but this young lady despite losing her mom at such a tender age and then her brother just a few months ago was determined to go to college. We’re glad she’s here at Livingstone, and we expect good things from her.”
Smith admits being nervous about how hard her classes may be, but she knows she can go to her professors for extra help if she needs it.
“That’s another reason I didn’t want to attend a big school,” Smith said. “I feel like the professors at Livingstone really care about their students and want us to succeed. I’m not saying professors at majority schools don’t care about their students, but at a small college like Livingstone you have a family atmosphere and the professors have a better chance of getting to know you. I’m nervous, but I feel confident things are going to be all right.”
Just as Smith’s brother was a father figure to her, Livingstone College junior Sidney Alexander has been a father to his younger sister, now 15, since she was 3.
“I really appreciate him,” said his mother, Debbie Alexander. “He talks to her about life, college and making sure she makes the honor roll at school. He talks to her about boys, and if she’s wearing something too short he makes her take it off and put on something more appropriate. He’s a role model to her and to other youth in our community.”
The family lives in Charlotte’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Alexander, a 20-year-old business and psychology major who’s also an Eagle Scout, is excited about the first day of classes at Livingstone.
“I’m glad to be back in class because I’m ready to get my degree,” Alexander said. “I hope to go right into the workforce after I graduate.”