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Chesapeake’s Jenkins beating the odds

Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jimmie Jenkins says "Parkway Overlook Apartments" is famous – no, more accurately, notorious – in Southeast D.C.

"It was kind of rough," acknowledged Jenkins, a freshman guard on Chesapeake College’s men’s basketball team who spent part of his childhood in that apartment complex. "There was everyday violence and arrests – the neighborhood was stereotyped. I can remember filling out job applications – as soon as they saw the ’Parkway Overlook Apartments’ address, they looked at you differently."

With a father he saw on weekends and a mother who spent his early years "out on the streets," Jenkins said he spent part of his childhood with his grandparents and much of his early school years in trouble.

"I didn’t really like school – I was considered a ’problem child,’ " said Jenkins. "I wasn’t into obeying the rules – I just wanted to do my own thing."

Jenkins could have ended up like many of the kids from that neighborhood – dead, incarcerated, dealing or using drugs. Instead, Jenkins said sports, school, an expanding support network and the knowledge he has gained through life experiences are helping him to rise above his childhood circumstances. In turn, he hopes to become a Southeast D.C. success story who can serve as a positive role model for the younger kids he works with at the Douglass Recreation Center off Alabama Avenue.

"I want to be able to tell kids to be strong and that there’s more to life than just being in the ’hood," said Jenkins, who returned to D.C. with his teammates when they played Montgomery College Rockville recently at the Verizon Center. "Don’t quit high school; go to college and put in the effort to succeed. If they see me doing it, maybe it can influence them to do it, too."

Dana Bowser, Chesapeake College’s director of first-year programs, said Jenkins works hard to be a good role model.

"He’s an intense individual who is very focused and has clear goals," said Bowser. "He’s very accountable for his actions and more than willing to try to overcome any challenges he faces."

Chesapeake College Athletic Director Frank Szymanski agreed.

"He’s definitely had to overcome a lot of challenges and obstacles, and it’s all been based on his will," said Szymanski. "He has outstanding leadership skills and a great desire to succeed – and I believe he will succeed."

Jenkins’ own story is not without its miss-steps, which he feels is a lesson in itself – succeeding requires a continued commitment to overcome both adversity and your own mistakes. Jenkins’ first semester in college this past fall is a perfect example.

"This semester was a challenge for me because of the two years out of school," admitted Jenkins, a 2008 high school graduate who became academically ineligible after the posting of Fall 2010 grades. "That was two years without any reading or math, and it was difficult."

Once again, Jenkins could have fallen into the large category of community college basketball players who play for one semester and leave college after failing to meet eligibility requirements. Instead, while most of his teammates were enjoying the semester break, Jenkins successfully passed an intense, two-week course over the internet that allowed him to regain his eligibility without missing any games.

Jenkins has found one of the most important keys to success is learning from the challenges that arise.

"This fall, even though I didn’t do extremely well, I found out that college was for me," said Jenkins.

Jenkins said his life began to turn around when, as a 7-year-old, he moved to Maryland to live with his father, Jimmy Walker. Jenkins said Walker – who played college basketball at both PGCC and North Carolina Central before a brief NBA tryout – introduced him to both sports and the concept of consequences for one’s actions.

"My Dad said, ’If you don’t behave, you won’t be able to play sports,’ " recalled Jenkins. "Sports helped change my life."

Jenkins received additional family support when his mother, Rufaro Jenkins, "got her life back together."

"She was ready to be a Mom," said Jenkins, who moved back into D.C. to live with his mother in the sixth grade. "She was the perfect Mom from then on."

Jenkins attended Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in D.C. While he was a three-sport athlete at Hyde – football, basketball and rugby – Jenkins said the most profound experience of his high school years had nothing to do with sports.

"In 10th grade, I went to Ghana, West Africa to help on a school-building project. I learned a lot in those 10 days," said Jenkins. "That was the true definition of poverty. Those kids didn’t have pens, paper . . . it was crazy. When I came back I was grateful for what I had."

Jenkins graduated from Hyde in 2008 and entered the adult world much sooner than expected.

"About a month after I graduated, I found out I was going to have a child," said Jenkins. "I immediately went looking for a job."

Jenkins worked in a facilities position at Hyde and coached basketball at Douglass Recreation Center. He first began to seriously consider college when an assistant coach from Prince George’s Community College – current Chesapeake College head coach Joel Dearring, who coached Jenkins’ father at PGCC in the early 1990s – began to recruit him in 2009.

"I wasn’t ready for college at the time, so Coach ’D’ told me to call him when I was ready," said Jenkins. "I called him last year and told him I was ready to play basketball. It went from there."

By that time, Dearring had been hired as Chesapeake College’s head coach. Jenkins chose Chesapeake – a decision he has never regretted.

"I love the Chesapeake community," said Jenkins. "There are so many people who will lend a hand to help. At times I wish I had my family right here – my parents, my girlfriend, and my 2-year-old son Jahrei all motivate me to do well, and I miss them when I’m away – but the people here make you feel at home."

Dearring said he was attracted by both Jenkins’ basketball skills and bloodline.

"I knew his father’s strong will to succeed as a student and an athlete. I figured if he had any type of his father’s character he would be successful," said Dearring. "Jimmie’s a special kid. He’s a warrior. He’s going to put 100 percent of his effort into anything he does. His work ethic on the court – he’s going to go out there and give everything he’s got. He’s got a very, very strong will."

Jenkins said his decision to attend college and strive for success was cemented by the continuing violence that regularly claims the lives of people who choose the streets.

"I was visiting so many funerals that it really opened my eyes that being out on the streets was not the place to be," said Jenkins. "This summer, one of my best friends (Lawrence Perkins) died after being stabbed at a subway station. I promised to finish school for both of us."

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