© 2024 KENW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For This Mom, A Son's First Step On Campus Took Years Of Twists And Turns


College freshmen have been settling into dorm rooms across the country this week. For the students, it's the beginning of an adventure; for the parents, the end of a journey, often full of unexpected turns to get a child launched into higher education. That's true for Leoneda Inge, a reporter for member station UNC in Durham, N.C. She shares her story.

LEONEDA INGE, BYLINE: It seems like Jean Christian Barry has been washing clothes, towels and sheets for weeks now. Mind you, I had never seen the boy wash sheets before. I just hope his dorm room won't be as messy as his awful room at home.

JEAN CHRISTIAN BARRY: Have a little faith. (Laughter) No, I won't make it as messy. I have to share it with somebody.

INGE: Yep, my firstborn is out of here. Seriously, it's really a joyous time. More African-American boys are graduating from high school today, but the achievement gap between black and white males persists. So I'm sure you would understand my excitement way back in 2006 when Jean Christian talked about being a pharmacist one day like his grandfather or maybe even a doctor. We quickly gave him that best-selling book "The Pact," about three African-American men from Newark, N.J., who made a vow in high school they would become doctors. Since I'm a journalist, I helped arrange for Jean Christian to interview them when they visited North Carolina Central University.


BARRY: Hello. I'm Jean Christian. I'm in third grade. Can you introduce yourself?

DR. SAMPSON DAVIS: Hi, I'm Dr. Sampson Davis.

DR. RAMECK HUNT: I'm Dr. Rameck Hunt.

DR. GEORGE JENKINS: And I'm Dr. George Jenkins.

BARRY: What made you want to be doctors?

INGE: Look at that - my son and the three doctors. After this interview, who wouldn't want to be a doctor?

BARRY: And I did want to be a doctor in the third grade, fourth grade, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and most of the ninth grade.

INGE: Then something changed. I thought it was about teachers not supporting him in math and science and him losing confidence in those areas. He says it was something else entirely.

BARRY: I grew up a little bit. The doctor thing is something that I really admired, but I found that what I love to do and what I was recognized for being pretty good at was singing and acting a little bit more.

INGE: But to make such a big change from medicine to singing, I would not have expected success based on this audition for the Durham Children's Choir. Jean Christian was 7 years old.


BARRY: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la, la.

INGE: I saw you going (singing) la, la, la, la, la, la la, like you didn't even know the words to "My Country, 'Tis Of Thee."

BARRY: I didn't.

INGE: You going to do better?

BARRY: Yeah.

INGE: Karolyn Tyson is a professor of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill and studies African-American students. She understands why I was worried.

KAROLYN TYSON: There's a lot of anxiety around a children's educational success, and then, you know, because you're worried about his future. So that's typical. It think it's even more so for black parents and particularly of black boys.

INGE: Tyson says with so many obstacles to black boys' success, it's great that Jean Christian has diverse talents and chose one that makes him happy.

BARRY: (Singing) ...Woodlands, flowery gladed by the oak tree's mossy moot.

INGE: Last summer, Jean Christian's hard work officially paid off. He was selected for the Governor's School of North Carolina, a prestigious program for gifted high school students - not for his math or science skills, but for his classical tenor skills. Laura Sam was his choral music instructor.

LAURA SAM: I definitely see in Jean Christian a passion. His eyes light up when he sings. He leaves rehearsal singing. He enters rehearsal singing. He talks about music on the way out.

BARRY: (Singing) ...There for me the apple tree do lean down low in Linden Lea.

INGE: In February of this year, we found ourselves at East Carolina University for Jean Christian's third college audition. The waiting room was full of anxious parents and students.

BARRY: Yep. Fingers crossed.

INGE: Yeah, you kind of like it here, don't you?

BARRY: I do. I really do. I know you don't, but I do.

INGE: I didn't say that. That's not on tape.

BARRY: (Laughter).

INGE: I never said I didn't like it.

Good thing because that's where he is right now. And all the planning and dreaming in the world could not have made for a better transition for him or me. For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge in Durham.


BARRY: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high. Over the rainbow... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She explores modern and historical constructs to tell stories of poverty and wealth, health and food culture, education and racial identity. Leoneda is also co-host of the podcast Tested, allowing for even more in-depth storytelling on those topics.