Grad­u­at­ing, but to what?

Poor stu­dents in the Deep South who suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate trau­mas at home and dys­func­tion at school find few op­por­tu­ni­ties af­ter­ward

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHICO HAR­LAN | PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON IN DREW, MISS.

The day of his high school grad­u­a­tion, like so many of the days be­fore, be­gan with chaos. Ruleville Cen­tral had pledged to lock its front doors an hour be­fore the cer­e­mony to pre­vent a crowd over­flow, and Jadare­ous Davis was still at his grand­mother’s home six miles up the road, time slip­ping away. Davis scanned through his men­tal check­list. Shoes? His older brother hadn’t yet swung by to drop off a pair. Bow tie? Maybe he could bor­row one from a neigh­bor. Pants? Davis wasn’t even sure whether the dress code man­dated black or brown, and he called a friend for help.

“Hey, what color pants we sup­posed to be wear­ing?” he said over the phone.

His grand­mother’s voice blared from the other room.

“Quar­ter af­ter nine!” she said. “C’mon, fel­las! I don’t want to be locked out.”

Davis, 19, was about to grad­u­ate from one of the poor­est-per­form­ing schools in a re­gion of Amer­ica that of­fers the bleak­est land­scape for the young, and the mo­ment came with equal parts ex­cite­ment and dread: As he en­tered adult­hood, there was no telling when or how all the com­bustible parts of his life might now blow up.

Davis’s se­nior year had dou­bled as a re­minder about all the haz­ards. He barely had a sta­ble place to live and had moved months ear­lier to the far edge of town, tak­ing over a dim unit paid for by his aunt af­ter he grew sick

of sleep­ing on a love seat at his grand­mother’s cramped place. Davis had lit­tle fam­ily sup­port; he’d fought with his mother so fu­ri­ously sev­eral years back, his so­lu­tion now was to sim­ply not see her. He also was grad­u­at­ing with a debt — $1,200, the fine for driv­ing his aunt’s car with­out in­sur­ance and then skip­ping a court date.

Tough­est of all, grad­u­a­tion meant step­ping into a place pro­vid­ing few ex­am­ples of some­thing bet­ter. His street in Drew con­sisted of a rust­ing cot­ton gin and a row of boarded-up store­fronts. His neigh­bor­hood had a thriv­ing drug trade that took place near an aban­doned build­ing with “For Col­ored” painted atop a door­way. His county had a poverty rate nearly three times the na­tional av­er­age, at 36 per­cent. His state had the low­est me­dian in­come in the na­tion and the sec­ond­high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rates. He could drive for two hours in any di­rec­tion with­out find­ing a lo­cal job­less rate re­sem­bling any­thing near the na­tional av­er­age.

The Deep South’s par­a­lyz­ing in­ter­gen­er­a­tional poverty is the dev­as­tat­ing sum of prob­lems both his­tor­i­cal and emer­gent — ones that, in the life of a young man, can build in child­hood and then erupt in early adult­hood. Stu­dents such as Davis deal with trau­mas at home and dys­func­tion at school — only to find them­selves, as grad­u­ates, search­ing for low-pay­ing jobs in states that have been re­luc­tant to fund pro­grams that help the poor. That cy­cle car­ries im­pli­ca­tions not only for the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion, but also for the ones to come, and holds back a re­gion that has fallen fur­ther be­hind the rest of the na­tion.

Davis had spent his high school years at Ruleville Cen­tral, a on­estory, red-brick build­ing built in 1958, where the clocks don’t work and where 55 per­cent grad­u­ate on time, ac­cord­ing to state data, well be­low the state rate of 76 per­cent. Ad­min­is­tra­tors there had said a day ear­lier that every­thing would lock down at nine sharp — part of en­forc­ing the fire-safety code in a too-small gym. But Davis fig­ured the school would play loose with the rules. So even though he was run­ning late, he pulled a white shirt and a bil­lowy pair of black slacks from the closet and started iron­ing as the min­utes passed.

“Boy, you knew yes­ter­day you had to have black slacks and black shoes,” his grand­mother Net­tie Davis said at 9:20 a.m. “I didn’t know!” he said. “Why are you iron­ing, Bae Bae?” she asked, us­ing a nick­name. “Ain’t no­body go­ing to see that shirt.”

Some 15 min­utes later, Davis was ready to go. His grand­mother and aunt, tired of wait­ing, had al­ready headed for the gym­na­sium in a sep­a­rate car. Davis darted into a cousin’s ve­hi­cle, hit the gas and thought about how much eas­ier this would be if he’d sim­ply slept at his grand­mother’s house — his home be­fore his aunt and her new­born moved in and it be­came too crowded.

When he swung into the Ruleville stu­dent park­ing lot at 9:48 a.m., 12 min­utes be­fore the cer­e­mony was to start, sev­eral non-grad­u­ates who’d been milling around spot­ted him in the lot and rushed to­ward him.

“The po­lice locked the doors!” one said, nearly out of breath.

Davis sprinted to­ward a back en­trance to the gym­na­sium, dress shoes crunch­ing gravel, as the oth­ers fol­lowed. An of­fi­cer spot­ted the com­mo­tion and cracked the door for him to slip in­side. “Thank you,” Davis gulped. But now he was in a packed gym won­der­ing whether his fam­ily had made it. He tried to tune out the band mu­sic, and his eyes skipped across the bleach­ers, scan­ning for his grand­mother and aunt. One side: Not there. The other: Not there. Fold­ing chairs: Nowhere.

Davis pushed his way through the gym, into the hall­way and to­ward the front en­trance to the school — and only then did he lock eyes with his grand­mother. She was out­side, pressed against the small win­dow of the front dou­ble door, the first in a group of 120 who had ar­rived too late and were now beg­ging to be let in.

“Fire code,” one of­fi­cer ex­plained, qui­etly, as he turned his back to the crowd. “We can’t make any ex­cep­tions.”

“That’s my grandma!” Davis barked.

“Bae!” Davis’s grand­mother said from the out­side. She smacked the win­dow. “Bae!”

Davis paced off and came back. The of­fi­cer wouldn’t ne­go­ti­ate. Davis’s fam­ily was trapped out­side and would re­main there.

“Bulls---,” Davis said, and he was wear­ing his cap and gown, tas­sel hang­ing, as he took one fi­nal look at his grand­mother through the win­dow. “Bulls---,” he said again, and he turned back into the gym to grad­u­ate.

The 86 mem­bers of Ruleville Cen­tral’s se­nior class had at­tended a school given an F grade by the state. Nearly ev­ery­body qual­i­fied for gov­ern­ment­pro­vided lunches. The school was so strapped for teach­ers that in 2014 it brought in seven from In­dia — dur­ing the mid­dle of the year — to in­struct math and sci­ence classes.

And then, with grad­u­a­tion, those stu­dents walked out the door.

Some new grad­u­ates went off to lo­cal col­leges. Oth­ers lacked money or test scores. One turned down an of­fer from his dream school — the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi — be­cause of the cost. An­other who had bragged about an await­ing foot­ball schol­ar­ship ended up work­ing at a truck stop. The school’s guid­ance coun­selor said she can count on her hand the ones who will fin­ish col­lege.

Here in the Deep South, poverty per­pet­u­ates from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion like in no other re­gion of the coun­try, data shows, and the ob­sta­cles that hold back new high school grad­u­ates shine a light on a vast eco­nomic strug­gle that dif­fers in its ex­pan­sive­ness from the con­cen­trated prob­lems seen in ur­ban hubs.

In re­cent years, shriv­el­ing job prospects for the high-schoole­d­u­cated and scant state sup­port for the poor have com­bined with the Deep South’s more time­worn prob­lems — sin­gle-par­ent­hood and un­der-ed­u­ca­tion — to di­min­ish the chances of a mid­dle-class life for some­body born into poverty. In Mis­sis­sippi, if high school grad­u­ates don’t ad­vance to col­lege, they have a 77 per­cent chance, com­pared with 67 per­cent na­tion­ally, that their chil­dren will grow up poor, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Chil­dren in Poverty. Such odds, which have been ris­ing since 2008, rep­re­sent the steep­est in the na­tion, and Alabama, South Car­olina and Georgia (along with Arkansas and New Mex­ico) are just be­hind.

Poverty rates in the South spiked higher in the af­ter­math of the re­ces­sion and have been far slower to re­cover, ris­ing to lev­els last seen three decades ago. And the young have en­dured the brunt of the pain. In 2000, the states of the Deep South — Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Car­olina — all had child poverty rates worse than the na­tional av­er­age, but they were spread loosely among the bot­tom half on a list of all states. Now, those five states have sunk to the bot­tom.

Ex­perts say that th­ese trou­bles stem from the re­gion’s dif­fi­culty adapt­ing to an in­creas­ingly tech­nol­ogy-based econ­omy that has dis­placed tra­di­tional bluecol­lar jobs and put a premium on high-skill po­si­tions. The states of the Deep South have also de­clined to put in place poli­cies that might help the young and their strug­gling par­ents — opt­ing against ex­pand­ing Med­i­caid, the health pro­gram for the poor, while car­ry­ing out some of the na­tion's sharpest cuts in ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing.

“Over­all, th­ese are not places that have in­vested in the ba­sic eco­nomic se­cu­rity that fam­i­lies need for their chil­dren to thrive,” said Pa­trick McCarthy, the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the An­nie E. Casey Foundation, a char­ity that helps dis­ad­van­taged youth.

The high school just south of Ruleville uses a build­ing that lacks air con­di­tion­ing or heat and where urine backs up in the pip­ing and wafts into the hall­ways. The big­gest dis­trict in the re­gion gets by with 15-year-old buses, 28-stu­dent class­rooms and six nurses for 6,000 stu­dents.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is the gate­keeper,” said Mike Sayer, co-founder of Jack­son, Miss.-based South­ern Echo, a com­mu­nity group fo­cus­ing on African Amer­i­can op­por­tu­nity. “The ef­fort to pro­vide pro­grams for the stu­dents most in need are be­ing suf­fo­cated.”

Class and race still cor­re­late closely in the South, where African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions are the high­est in the na­tion. In Mis­sis­sippi, for in­stance, black chil­dren are three times like­lier than whites to grow up poor, three times like­lier to live with sin­gle par­ents, more than twice as likely to lack ba­sic read­ing skills by fourth grade, and twice as likely to drop out.

In 24 of the 40 Mis­sis­sippi dis­tricts to re­ceive a D or F grade from the state, African Amer­i­cans make up at least 95 per­cent of the stu­dent body.

In Sun­flower County, where Ruleville is one of two nearly all-black pub­lic schools, the dif­fer­ences in op­por­tu­nity are par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced. Davis’s grad­u­at­ing class had one white stu­dent — even though the county is 30 per­cent white. White stu­dents, in­stead, tend to en­roll at North Sun­flower Academy, a small pri­vate school where two Con­fed­er­ate flags — painted on a tool shed and the foot­ball field press box — greet vis­i­tors at the en­trance.

At Ruleville, Davis had talked of­ten about drop­ping out. He hadn’t both­ered to take stan­dard­ized tests. He’d some­times walk out of school mid­day, or re­treat to the gym and shoot hoops. He was oc­ca­sion­ally sus­pended, and some teach­ers said he’d dodged ex­pul­sion only be­cause of his sta­tus as the best player on a bad bas­ket­ball team. He was a “tick­ing time bomb,” his coach said.

In the last months of his se­nior year, he’d twice been pulled over for speed­ing — both times in his aunt’s car. The tick­ets were ini­tially man­age­able, but then Davis skipped his pay­ment date and a court date and the fines bal­looned. He re­ceived a no­tice soon af­ter grad­u­a­tion that his li­cense had been sus­pended.

Still, he had made it. Just days af­ter he grad­u­ated, as his friends talked about col­lege, Davis up­dated the ed­u­ca­tion sta­tus on his Face­book pro­file. “East Mis­sis­sippi Com­mu­nity Col­lege,” he wrote, even though noth­ing was fi­nal­ized. There, he hoped, he would take a com­mer­cial-truck-driv­ing course and earn a li­cense to op­er­ate an 18-wheeler and “see Amer­ica,” as his grand­fa­ther had done.

Be­fore he could go to col­lege and drive a truck, Davis needed to get his li­cense back. So, thanks to a lo­cal non­profit group, he got a $10-an-hour

sum­mer job pulling weeds and check­ing wa­ter me­ters for the town of Drew, just north of Ruleville. But on the first day, Davis showed up 45 min­utes late. He was 30 min­utes late on Day 2. Sev­eral weeks later, Davis re­treated into the Drew po­lice sta­tion to wait out an early-af­ter­noon rain­storm. He sat in a chair and fell asleep. When his boss, town Po­lice Chief Terry Tyler, walked into the of­fice, Tyler fired him.

“I ex­plained that to him: ‘You’re a good kid. Got great po­ten­tial,’ ” Tyler said. “But I want to work with kids who ac­tu­ally want a fu­ture, not be in­sub­or­di­nate.”

Davis reeled. He re­treated for a week­end to his two-bed­room unit, where laun­dry was piled in the spare bed­room and his diploma sat by the TV, and didn’t come out for three days. He ig­nored calls from friends and rel­a­tives. He pulled on ear­phones and played video games. How could he drive a truck if he couldn’t even drive a car? How could he re­in­state his li­cense if he didn’t have a job to pay the fine?

“I re­al­ized I was just stuck,” Davis said.

Af­ter ig­nor­ing peo­ple for days, Davis called a friend and sug­gested they go job-hunt­ing to­gether. They aimed at the first place they could think of: one of the only fac­to­ries in Ruleville, a small com­pany that re­fur­bished plas­tic bags. The fac­tory, its walls and floors of­ten cov­ered in white pow­der, had a rough rep­u­ta­tion. But it was also known as a place that hires most who show up.

“Ev­ery­body who works there, their whole body be white,” Davis said.

With no ap­point­ment, Davis ar­rived at the fac­tory with his friend, De’Sean Wil­lis, and a worker emerged from the white cloud to greet them.

“You here to see some­body?” the man asked.

He ush­ered them into an of­fice room right off the manufacturing floor, and there, too, every­thing was caked in white TiO2, ti­ta­nium diox­ide, as they were told, a pow­der used in plas­tics. The room had an old tele­phone, a pa­per shred­der, a fil­ing drawer for “Va­ca­tion Re­quest” forms, and a poster read­ing, “Team­work.” Davis, wear­ing can­vas shorts and a LeBron James Nike shirt, sank into a dusty arm­chair, cre­at­ing a poof of white, and filled out an ap­pli­ca­tion.

“What are you say­ing here?” Davis asked Wil­lis, when he came to the part about ed­u­ca­tion.

“Just say what you did,” Wil­lis shrugged.

And so he did. Did you grad­u­ate? Yes. School? Ruleville Cen­tral. GPA? 1.8. Davis gri­maced. A man­ager, Ed­ward Leak, walked into the of­fice and pep­pered them with a few ques­tions. He stood while talk­ing. “Best hours?” Davis said any­thing would do. Leak braced for a sec­ond and glanced at the young men be­fore him. Nei­ther had stood when he en­tered; nei­ther seemed talk­a­tive; nei­ther had ques­tions for him. He pressed Davis fur­ther.

“And what about your fu­ture?” Leak said. “Col­lege?”

Davis paused be­fore pro­vid­ing an an­swer he no longer be­lieved. “East Mis­sis­sippi,” he said. “In De­cem­ber.”

Davis pic­tured his town and his re­gion as a trap of part­time and short-lived jobs be­cause his fam­ily mem­bers were among those who’d got­ten stuck. One of his aunts had a crim­i­nal jus­tice de­gree that turned into a $9.75-an-hour job at a nearby pri­son. An­other aunt had spent a few years in pri­son on ag­gra­vated as­sault charges, earned a cos­me­tol­ogy cer­tifi­cate while be­hind bars and came out with a two-daya-week job cut­ting hair at a nurs­ing home. Even his grand­fa­ther’s com­forts were fleet­ing; he, too, had been in pri­son as a young man for drug traf­fick­ing, and he bat­tled with var­i­ous can­cers over 20 years as he tried to stay be­hind the wheel.

For Davis, liv­ing on the fringes of poverty re­quired a near-daily cal­cu­lus about how to get by. “I try to hide my thoughts,” Davis said. When his fam­ily de­cided it couldn’t af­ford a grad­u­a­tion party, Davis didn’t com­plain. When he didn’t have money for a prom ticket, he qui­etly asked an older friend in the com­mu­nity for $40. When his fam­ily took a quick sum­mer trip to the Mis­sis­sippi coast — a rare get­away — he de­cided to stay back in Drew. In this case, his fam­ily was go­ing to visit his mother. He wanted no part.

If any­thing could set Davis off, it was the thought of his mother.

She was 21 when she had him. She was in cos­me­tol­ogy school at the time, with no in­come. She met his dad at a night­club, and they were briefly to­gether un­til she found out that other women were in the pic­ture. Rel­a­tives said she wasn’t ready, and so her mother took Jadare­ous home from the hospi­tal. Tyarra Davis felt scorned and em­bar­rassed, and for years, liv­ing far­ther south in Biloxi, she slipped in and out of his life.

When Davis hit ninth grade, Tyarra tried to move back in with the fam­ily. Davis made no at­tempt to hide his fury. One morn­ing, the fam­ily was late for church and Davis was dry­ing his cloth­ing. His mother urged him to hus­tle. Davis tried to ig­nore her; who was she to play mother, he re­called think­ing. So he stood by the dryer and looked at his cloth­ing. Then Tyarra came at him with a cord, he said. “So I grabbed her,” he said. The two yelled. They locked arms. They traded punches.

Tyarra felt Davis — al­ready above 6foot at the time— couldn’t be calmed. He chased her into sev­eral bed­rooms, through the kitchen and even­tu­ally into the front yard. The fight lasted sev­eral min­utes. At some point, a call was made to the po­lice; Davis said his mother made the call, but Tyarra said a neigh­bor did.

“All I re­mem­ber, we were on top of each other and the po­lice pulled up,” Tyarra said in an in­ter­view from Biloxi, where she again lives. “It was ba­si­cally on him. They took him.”

The po­lice kept Davis for sev­eral hours.

Davis never tried to ex­plain him­self.

“I just stayed quiet and rode down to the sta­tion,” he said. “They wouldn’t un­der­stand.”

In the years that fol­lowed, Tyarra all but cut off con­tact with her son, even as she found a de­cent job work­ing se­cu­rity with the Mis­sis­sippi Depart­ment of La­bor. “He’s not at a stage in his life where I can talk to him,” she said.

He feels a sim­i­lar dis­tance. “On her Face­book pro­file, she don’t even say she has kids,” Davis said.

Davis stayed job­less for weeks. Some days he talked about the Army. Some days he in­quired about jobs. One day he grew fran­tic enough that he took a risk: He called a friend and asked to bor­row his car. Even though he didn’t have a li­cense.

Davis drove around the re­gion, stop­ping any­where that looked promis­ing. A health cen­ter. A burger joint. He filled out ap­pli­ca­tions. And when he dropped off the car at the truck stop where his friend worked, he met his friend’s boss, who told him about a pro­gram in Nashville.

Lin­coln Tech, it was called, and it taught diesel me­chan­ics.

Davis ap­plied on­line that night.

Days later, re­spond­ing to that ap­pli­ca­tion, a re­cruiter drove across the re­gion for a visit, and they all met at Net­tie’s house. They spread around the kitchen counter, right un­der a wall taped with Pres­i­dent Obama mag­a­zine cov­ers, and Robert Black plugged in his lap­top, talk­ing about a oneyear pro­gram, the hands-on train­ing, the job place­ment, and he also tried to dis­avow Davis of the im­age of a state school with a big quad. Lin­coln Tech had a cam­pus, but it was mostly a se­ries of garages. The place was sit­u­ated along a com­mer­cial, fast-food pike. The stu­dents wore me­chan­ics’ uni­forms. Dorms were avail­able, but ba­sic. The train­ing was prac­ti­cal. You’d get a cer­tifi­cate, not a de­gree.

“Does that sound like some­thing you’d be in­ter­ested in?” Black re­called ask­ing Davis.

“Yessir,” Davis said. “I don’t need English. I don’t need math. Just train­ing.”

Af­ter so many dead ends, Davis strained to be­lieve his luck: Here was a place that would take him. He quickly told him­self that he’d be happy work­ing on trucks rather than driv­ing them. He re­searched the av­er­age pay for diesel me­chan­ics—$42,000 pery ear. “Real money,” he said. He took a Won­der­lic in­tel­li­gence test, one of Lin­coln’s pre­req­ui­sites. To cover the costs, he took out two loans, one with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment un­der his aunt’s name and a smaller one di­rectly from the school. The to­tal cost: $30,000.

Shana warned Davis that he needed to fin­ish school to make the in­vest­ment worth­while; oth­er­wise she would de­fault and her own daugh­ter might one day be de­nied ac­cess to loans. Davis agreed.

“I was scared of stay­ing in Mis­sis­sippi,” Davis said.

He had vir­tu­ally no money to cover his ex­penses, so he pledged him­self in Nashville to work 16hour days: eight hours as a stu­dent and eight hours in a job — per­haps a late-af­ter­noon shift at McDon­ald’s. Just to get to Nashville, Davis needed new, stiff, dark jeans, steel-toed boots, bed­sheets and a com­forter. So Net­tie asked for sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars in do­na­tions from rel­a­tives and pulled as much as she could from her So­cial Se­cu­rity check. In Septem­ber, as Davis headed to school, she cut back on gro­ceries and didn’t pay her phone bill.

The morn­ing of the first class, which be­gan at 6:40 a.m., Davis pulled him­self out of bed in a cin­der block dorm room where Capri Suns were un­der the bed and a Black & Decker iron sat on the desk. He put on one of his five school-is­sued work uni­forms and walked qui­etly into a win­dow­less class­room, a place where he’d learn the ba­sics for sev­eral weeks be­fore mov­ing into the garage. On the wall, a poster was ti­tled “Pic­ture Per­fect Wheel Align­ment,” and the white­board read, “Mr. Bul­lock, 102.”

There were 29 peo­ple in the class­room, all but one of them men. They were or­dered to take off their hats and to put away their cell­phones.

“One of the things we’re go­ing to do is a lit­tle self-in­tro­duc­tion,” Mr. Bul­lock said. “Any­one want to vol­un­teer first?”

Stu­dents stood and talked about them­selves. One was from West Ten­nessee. An­other from Franklin, W.Va. One had served in the Air Force.

Sev­eral said they had worked in body shops.

It was Davis’s turn. He had a seat in the first row of the class­room, at a me­tal work­bench. He stood and turned around.

“I’m Jadare­ous Davis,” he said. “From Drew, Mis­sis­sippi. I’m here for diesel.”

Jadare­ous Davis puts on his cap and

gown in a class­room at Ruleville Cen­tral High School in Ruleville, Miss., be­fore the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in May. Davis and other grad­u­ates of poor­per­form­ing schools in Deep South states of­ten find them­selves hunt­ing for low-pay­ing jobs.

TOP: Aban­doned store­fronts stand on a street cor­ner in Drew, Miss., where Jadare­ous Davis grew up. The county’s poverty rate of 36 per­cent is nearly three times the na­tional av­er­age. ABOVE: Net­tie Davis pounds on a door at Ruleville Cen­tral High School, ask­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer to let her in for her Jadare­ous’s grad­u­a­tion in May. Of­fi­cials en­forc­ing the fire code de­ter­mined that the gym­na­sium was at ca­pac­ity and did not let any­one else en­ter. BE­LOW: Jadare­ous Davis spends time with 3-weekold cousin Ausha Davis at his grand­mother’s home, where he lived for a time, sleep­ing on a love seat.

TOP: Ruleville Cen­tral se­niors use their phones as mir­rors or for tak­ing self­ies ahead of a prac­tice cer­e­mony the night be­fore grad­u­a­tion in May. The Mis­sis­sippi school grad­u­ates 55 per­cent of its stu­dents on time. ABOVE: Framed mag­a­zine cov­ers and pho­tos of Pres­i­dent Obama, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and oth­ers hang on a wall at Net­tie Davis’s home. BE­LOW: Af­ter his first day of classes at Lin­coln Col­lege of Tech­nol­ogy in Nashville, Jadare­ous Davis un­packs his clothes in his dorm room. He is study­ing to be­come a cer­ti­fied diesel me­chanic, a job whose av­er­age pay — $42,000 a year — rep­re­sents “real money” for Davis.

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