Lakreshia takes the lead*

The Marianists

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By Julie Rattey


Only a few more minutes ’til this day is over...

Lakreshia, 16, slumped at her desk during end-of-the-day homeroom at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. Most of her classmates were busy decorating the room for school spirit week, but Lakreshia was hardly in the mood to join in. She felt frustrated with everything. School was a pain, and outside of school… Lakreshia’s shoulders tensed as she thought of her dad. She loved him, which was why it hurt so much that, in Lakreshia’s mind, he seemed to have chosen his new girlfriend and her family over Lakreshia and her younger sister, Alexia. It had not been a good day. She needed something to take her mind off it all.

Checking quickly to make sure no one was looking, Lakreshia pulled her cell phone from her purse. She wasn’t supposed to have it out at school, but whatever. Keeping the device concealed in her lap from behind her desk, she began sending text messages. She was in the middle of typing one, her right thumb poised over the keypad, when a shadow fell over the screen.

She looked up to see her teacher, Miss Bailey. Lakreshia knew she should hand the phone over, but she was already in a bad mood, and suddenly Miss Bailey, with her hand reaching out to take the phone, looked to Lakreshia like just the person to take it out on.

In under a minute, it was all over. Lakreshia couldn’t take back the swears that had escaped her mouth while trying to keep her phone from being taken. Worse, she was suspended. For three days.

That afternoon, Lakreshia’s drive home ended all too soon. Lakreshia did not look forward to telling her mother and little sister the news. Alexia looked up to her, and her mother had been proud of her academic progress and would be surprised at her behavior. And then there was Miss Lively, the director of her scholarship program; she would be so disappointed. Lakreshia sighed. The bad day she was having earlier seemed like nothing compared to now.


***


Today aside, things at school were going pretty well for Lakreshia, thanks in part to the Marianist Urban Student Program. Two years ago, when Lakreshia was in eighth grade, the program’s director, Shannon Lively, had visited her class to talk about the program, which accepted a select number of students each year who would receive financial aid, academic tutoring and counseling, and enrichment activities such as college visits and guest speakers. The program also encouraged student involvement and leadership in extracurricular activities. That had all sounded pretty good to Lakreshia. She wanted to be a leader, be more outgoing, more involved. She could use a little help in math. And the tuition money certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Sitting in her parked car outside her mother’s house, Lakreshia remembered how much trouble math had given her as a freshman. She remembered staring at the complicated formulas in her geometry book in dismay. But Miss Lively had met with her regularly and had been encouraging, helping her make sense of her homework and giving her tips by which to remember the geometry formulas. To Lakreshia’s delight, her C’s and D’s in the subject began being replaced by A’s and B’s. It didn’t take long for her confidence to rise with her grades.

Lakreshia tipped her head back against her seat and reflected on what she had accomplished in the last year. Despite what had happened today, she couldn’t just let it all go down the drain. Despite today, she wasn’t going to give up.


***

Lakreshia, now 18, glanced at the car clock as she pulled into the high school parking lot. Good; she was early for school; she’d have time to give Miss Lively the news. Time was a precious commodity these days: Between classes, college applications, being president of the Black Student Union, and tutoring eighth-graders downtown, senior year was Lakreshia’s busiest year yet. It felt good, though. She had come a long way since her freshman year: She had become less shy, grown academically and in self-confidence, and gotten more involved at school. She was taking an advanced science class, something she never would have imagined her freshman year. And she had decided to pursue a career in magazine journalism.

Her life wasn’t perfect, of course — things with her dad still weren’t the way she wanted them to be — but everything she had hoped for when she joined the Marianist Urban Student Program seemed to be coming true. Moreover, through Leadership Scholars, the two-year mentoring program into which she had been accepted, she was taking what she had learned — both in the class- room and in life — and using it to help other people.

Lakreshia smiled as she remembered a recent conversation with Dontasia, one of the four eighth-graders she was mentoring on Monday afternoons at St. Joseph’s Elementary School downtown. Dontasia, who did modeling, was a confident and outgoing girl. But one afternoon, she’d pulled Lakreshia aside to confess she was worried about something.

Lakreshia wasn’t just a mentor to Dontasia; the girls also had become friends. This gave Lakreshia twice the reason to want to help. She turned over the possibilities in her mind; what could be the matter?

“My mother’s pregnant,” Dontasia had said. What would happen to her, she wondered, when her mother had the baby? Would her mother love her as much? Would she be too busy taking care of the new baby to pay any attention to her?

Lakreshia remembered how good it had felt to have something helpful to say. She had felt exactly the same way when her mother was pregnant with Alexia, now 8. It hadn’t been easy; she’d had to learn to take turns, to share her mother’s affection. But she loved being a big sister. She and Alexia talked together, played games, watched movies together. More than once she had thought about Alexia when confronted with some choice or other; being a role model meant she had the responsibility to do the right thing, set a good example. It felt kind of nice to know someone looked up to her.


***


As Lakreshia entered her school and walked down the hall to Miss Lively’s office, she couldn’t help thinking of all that had taken place there over the past four years: all the hours going over math homework, the discussions about what classes Lakreshia was taking, the times she and Miss Lively had laughed and talked about what was going on in their lives. Whenever Lakreshia needed help, Miss Lively had been there for her. Today, though, that wasn’t the reason for her visit.

Miss Lively, who was typing away at her computer, turned and smiled as Lakreshia entered the office. “Hi Lakreshia!” she said warmly. “What can I—”

She stopped short as Lakreshia handed her a sheet of formal stationery with typing on it. Miss Lively looked at Lakreshia curiously. “What’s this?”

Lakreshia grinned and tilted her chin forward, urging Miss Lively to read the paper’s contents. Miss Lively scanned the first lines of text. Lakreshia’s grin widened as she watched Miss Lively’s blue eyes light up.

“You got accepted into St. John’s University in New York! Lakreshia, that’s amazing!”

Lakreshia laughed with pleasure. She felt sure this was just one of the many amazing opportunities her future held.

*Based on the story of Lakreshia McKenzie. Research for this feature was conducted with the assistance of Shannon Lively, director of the Marianist Urban Students Program.

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.