Help­ing hand came just in time for teen

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - MARY MITCHELL marym@sun­ Twit­ter: @marymitche­l­lcst

When 18-year-old David Peake be­came home­less dur­ing his se­nior year at Ur­ban Prep Acad­emy, a class­mate came to the res­cue.

“It was a night in Oc­to­ber and we were at a schol­ar­ship fair and David didn’t have a ride home,” re­calls Ja­son Roberts, 16.

Be­cause David’s fam­ily lost their hous­ing in Chicago, the teen was forced to com­mute from In­di­ana. His mother usu­ally picked him up from af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties.

On this par­tic­u­lar night, how­ever, the mother had no trans­porta­tion and David was stranded.

“I asked my mom if he could stay the night here,” Ja­son said. “Push came to shove and I asked her if he could spend the rest of his se­nior year with us.”

It was a huge re­quest given Jan Kruel Roberts’ cir­cum­stances. She was di­vorced with two chil­dren. Ad­di­tion­ally, a bat­tle with breast can­cer six years ago forced her to re­duce her work­load.

De­spite her chal­lenges, Roberts couldn’t say no.

“If we had not taken David in, he would not have been able to con­tinue at Ur­ban Prep,” the mother said. “Be­cause my son asked, I let him stay with us for the en­tire school year.”

“Words can’t even de­scribe how I felt about that,” David said.

“Part of the rea­son I am where I am is be­cause Ja­son’s mother took me back and forth to school. She put in all the ef­fort, mak­ing sure we were at school on time,” David told me. “I thank God for this fam­ily.”

Like the hun­dreds of young black men hon­ored at a Mass Black Male Grad­u­a­tion and Tran­si­tion to Man­hood cer­e­mony held Satur­day at Chicago State Univer­sity, David and Ja­son are shin­ing ex­am­ples of teens who are try­ing to make the most of their op­por­tu­ni­ties.

David, who was vale­dic­to­rian of his class, was ac­cepted at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, and is the re­cip­i­ent of a Gates Mil­len­nium Scholar- ship that will pay for tuition and hous­ing.

Iron­i­cally, while David is set for the next four years, Ja­son’s mother is strug­gling to come up with the money needed to send him to the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia af­ter he was ac­cepted into the Ivy League school.

Ja­son also grad­u­ated with top aca­demic hon­ors. Al­though the 16-year-old re­ceived a $30,000 schol­ar­ship, he still needs to come up with an ad­di­tional $30,000.

But the only job he has landed is a part­time job at Cut­tie Yacht Club, a new recre­ation ven­ture at the 31st Street Har­bor.

“That is the ter­ri­ble part. Right now, I am try­ing to find any schol­ar­ships or in­tern­ships or any­thing that can help,” he said.

Try­ing to close the gap in her son’s fi­nan­cial aid has stressed out his mother.

“I’m not try­ing to beg for any­thing. I have worked all my life,” she told me. “If I have to work an­other job, I am will­ing to do that. But my son is an un­sung hero. He shouldn’t be strug­gling.” Un­for­tu­nately, her son is not alone.

Thou­sands of stu­dents at his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are strug­gling to fill a gap in their fi­nan­cial aid be­cause of a change in the fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion loan poli­cies, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­cently re­ported.

A tougher credit check dis­qual­i­fied bor­row­ers with un­paid debts over the past five years, and debts that were re­ferred to a col­lec­tion agency.

The Post anal­y­sis found that there were 18,800 par­ent bor­row­ers in 2012-13 at about 90 HBCUs, com­pared to 35,400 the year be­fore. That is a 47 per­cent drop. The de­cline in bor­row­ers for all schools was nearly one in five.

As a re­sult, many stu­dents were un­able to re­turn to school.

Given the econ­omy, the im­pact of stiffer credit cri­te­ria will con­tinue to hit the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity the hard­est. Black un­em­ploy­ment is typ­i­cally twice as high as whites, and many sin­gle black mothers strug­gle to pro­vide for their house­holds.

“I’m pretty much rais­ing the kids on my own when it comes to money,” Roberts said.

Still, Roberts doesn’t re­gret help­ing David, who still re­sides in her home.

“My big­gest thing is try­ing to re­pay them back for ev­ery­thing they have done,” David said. “The only thing I could do is do my best and show them I am truly grate­ful.”

I am a firm be­liever in what goes around comes around.

Ja­son’s help is just around the cor­ner.

David Peake (left) and Ja­son Roberts

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