Bridge Program gives Livingstone students second chance

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2012

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
Tyrone Aaron knows what it’s like to get a second chance. Livingstone College gave him one.
In the late 1990s, Aaron was a student at Atlanta Metropolitan Community College, but after his girlfriend got pregnant, he quit school to work in shipping and receiving at Burlington Coat Factory.
Two years ago, Aaron decided a college degree would give him the best chance at being able to adequately provide for his daughter, Tyjah. He’d heard about Livingstone College’s Bridge Program and decided to give it a try.
“Re-enrolling in college was daunting at first,” Aaron said. “The Bridge Program was necessary for me because I’d been away from school for about 13 years. The mental aptitude was never my problem. My problem was always attitude. I had issues with authority. I wanted to do it my way, and I had an issue with change.”
The Bridge Program, the brainchild of Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., primarily helps 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 spend six weeks at Livingstone during the summer for an intensive program that includes classes in reading, writing, oral communications, math, African-American history and technology. 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 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.
Success story
Two years ago, several Bridge students graduated from Livingstone. Among them was Dymekea Bellamy, who finished her degree in three years, graduated with honors and is in graduate school at Winston-Salem State University with aspirations of becoming a physician.
The Bridge Program has been successful, and Bellamy is just one example. Aaron, who has a perfect 4.0 GPA, is working with the Bridge Program this summer and will serve as Junior Class president when the 2012-2013 academic year begins. And Eugene Brown, a former Bridge student who graduated in May, spent two summers interning on Capitol Hill while attending Livingstone.
Director Sylvester Kyles Jr. is largely to credit for the program’s success.
“Mr. Kyles puts his heart and soul into the Bridge Program, and that’s evident by the way he works with the students and fights to keep them here at Livingstone,” Jenkins said. “Naturally some students get here and, after a week or two, decide they want to go back home, but Mr. Kyles counsels them and helps them understand their chances for success are much better if they stay in college and earn a degree. Mr. Kyles is patient, yet firm with the students. I’m very pleased with the way he runs the program.”
Kyles knows he couldn’t successfully run the program without the two dozen students and professors who assist him.
“The Bridge Program is successful because of the professors and young adults who work with me,” Kyles said. “They all pitch in to do whatever is necessary, whatever I ask of them, to ensure the Bridge students successfully complete the six-week course and enroll in Livingstone as freshmen in the fall. I’m grateful for their commitment, dedication and service.”
Challenging students
Bridge adheres to the 10 modules of the Holistic College, including health and wellness, fiscal literacy, civic engagement and community service. But the program does so much more.
For example, on July 19 during an assembly in Tubman Little Theater, Bridge students met Thomas L. Barksdale II, a motivational speaker who focuses on at-risk youth. Barksdale, of Charlotte, encouraged the students and challenged them.
“You’ve got about 14 days left to be in this program and then it’s time to enroll in school and kick some tail,” Barksdale said. “When you’re dedicated to your dream, your grind is real. You’ve got to be so dedicated to your dream that even when your family doesn’t believe in you, you keep going.”
Barksdale, an N.C. A&T State University graduate, told the students they must not doubt themselves but instead believe they can graduate from college and become successful. He also said when setbacks occur they must pick themselves up, brush themselves off and keep it moving.
“You’re going to feel some hurt,” he said, “but what are you going to produce?”
Barksdale, who has worked with thousands of schools and agencies, engaged the students by talking to them — versus at them — and invoking several pop culture references to which they easily related.
Teaching endurance
His visit came just days after the students returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, where they visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Howard University and other historical attractions and institutions.
“The Martin Luther King Monument made me proud to be an African-American,” said Chanel Morgan, 18, a graduate of Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High School.
“The Library of Congress was amazing,” said Daniel Burges, 18, a graduate of River Rouge High School in River Rouge, Mich. “I’d heard about it in school, but to see it in person was great!”
“The Great Blacks in Wax Museum gave me clearer insight into lynching, well beyond what I learned in school,” said Erika Morgan, 18, a graduate of Charlotte’s Vance High School.
Added Traybian Ingram, 18, a graduate of T. Wingate Andrews High School in High Point: “Visiting the Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church proves the commitment the AME Zion Church has for Livingstone students. They fed our souls with encouragement and our bellies with a good meal.”
Jenkins, who tries to speak to the Bridge students weekly, is glad they understand the trip’s significance.
“There are a lot of people depending on you and praying for you,” Jenkins told the students recently. “They’re your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. And I want you to know I’m praying for you and faculty and staff are praying for you, too.”
Soon thereafter, Jenkins began singing “They Said I Wouldn’t Make It.” Seconds later, he relinquished the microphone to Anthony Patterson, 18, of Charlotte, and Kelly Young, 19, of Thomasville, who each sang.
When Jenkins speaks to the students, he constantly reminds them obtaining a college degree won’t be easy. He also assures them it can be done.
On that day, to prove his point he closed by reminding the students of Ecclesiastes 9:11: The race isn’t given to the swift nor the strong but he that endures to the end.
Manuel McGriff contributed to this report.