By Irene Rotondo
The final Zoom session for the month of June of the “Conversations On Race” series put on by the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement at Springfield College took place on Tuesday, June 30. The conversations being held that evening were about “A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League”, a 1998 novel detailing the racially charged educational trials and tribulations of Washington, D.C. resident Cedric Jennings, written by Ron Suskind.
Now 42 years old and currently working on his doctoral degree, Jennings recounted his story of how being raised in a lowincome section of The District by his hard-working single mother and undergoing intense adversities with his education impacted his worldview. Jennings stated that when he was ten years old, his mother sat him down and had a conversation with him that many Black mothers have to have with their sons and daughters about being Black in America.
“She told me that, ‘You’ll go far in life, but you have to be okay with and understand that there are going to be some places and some communities that are not going to welcome you; they’re not even going to invite you, because you’re Black,’” quoted Jennings.
Jennings’ dreams of attending an Ivy League school were met with disdain and doubt, especially after his expulsion after one year from a local Magnet highschool that was known to have better educational resources and opportunities as a result of fighting. Though an honor-roll student, Jennings’ public school teachers told him that they had not had a student attend an Ivy League university in 15 years and they did not believe he would be any different.
After attending an enrichment program for minority students interested in pursuing a career in engineering by MIT, Jennings realized that though he was considered to be one of the smartest students in his high school, he was not always going to be the smartest person in the room. He met with a representative of MIT to see what his future could look like if he attended college there after the enrichment program ended and was told that his test scores were not high enough and that he would not be “MIT material.”
“At that moment, I was so discouraged, and I really began to question the journey; why am I here?” said Jennings. “You know, this is a lot. I’ve sacrificed a lot, I’ve done a lot, I’ve studied a lot… maybe this grade that I got is an indicator… I began to think about quitting. In that moment, I thought about both sides of the coin of quitting. If I quit, it would validate everything that anybody who has ever doubted me has ever thought about me. If I go on, I have the opportunity to prove them wrong and in the same vein live out my dream.”
Jennings put his head down and worked harder in his classes to improve his grades despite discouragement from all sides. Knowing that he wanted to prove everyone wrong and see his own personal progress, Jennings applied to every single Ivy League school he could find and finally was accepted into Brown University.
Since attending Brown, Jennings has accumulated national attention regarding his own personal story as a product of systemic racism, but being one of the lucky few who are able to overcome that to make their own path in breaking the cycle. “A Hope in the Unseen” was written following two stories from 1995 in The Wall Street Journal by Ron Suskin. After their publishings, there was a massive call for a book to be written about the full story of Cedric Jennings and thus was created “A Hope in the Unseen.”
After Jennings’ recount, the floor was opened to allow community members who had been listening in to question and comment on Jennings’ educational journey. Many expressed their gratitude for him to tell his story and let the world know that not everyone is given the same educational opportunities based on skin color.
It was also commented by a community member that Jennings had managed to keep the entire conversation he headed non-political which is difficult with this sort of topic. Jennings replied that he was a very non-political person himself, but he did believe that it was largely important for younger generations to take a stance in politics and understand what was going on.
By continuing our “Conversations on Race” and attempting to take a look at a new aspect of what it means to be an “anti-racist” each week, we can better ourselves together as a community in an increasingly individualistically opinionated society.
Springfield College will continue to host Zoom meetings concerning racial issues. Next week, (Tuesday, July 7) there will be a discussion on Springfield College’s admissions and recruitment process concerning students of color.
Featured photo: Jack Margaros/The Student