With his natural charm and winning smile, one would never dream that Jamal Tate was sitting in jail just 18 months ago, contemplating a very different future from the one he is planning for himself now, as a freshman at Central Piedmont Community College. Jamal will tell you that he would certainly not be enrolled at CPCC now, taking a full load of classes and holding a work-study job in the Global Learning department, if not for Communities In Schools, and in particular his two CIS counselors, Reggie Hester and Joe Rothenberg.
It was never a question of his potential. Jamal is smart - he held a 3.5 GPA and was state champion in track his 9th grade year at his former school in Las Vegas, before moving to Charlotte with his mother when he was fifteen.
“In Charlotte I started hanging with the wrong crowd, started experimenting with drugs, then began skipping school,” said Jamal. He was arrested for the first time in 2010 for a misdemeanor and spent one night in jail. His relationship with his mother worsened, they were fighting a lot, and Jamal continued to have run-ins with the law. However, at the end of the school year, he still managed to make excellent scores on his EOC (“End of Course”) tests – but he failed all of his classes anyway due to excessive absences.
When Jamal was arrested a second time, it was for a more serious offense and he had to spend two weeks at the Jail North facility for juveniles. That’s where he met Reggie Hester, the CIS Services Coordinator at Jail North. Jamal says he remembers well what Reggie said to him when he was released from Jail North this time: “I can see the greatness in you,” Hester said, “you just have to see it in yourself.”
“Mr. Hester was a very encouraging figure,” said Jamal. “He was the pushing factor that kept me wanting something better for myself.” Hester also made sure that Jamal connected with Joe Rothenberg, the CIS Site Coordinator at [the former] Waddell High School, where Jamal was a student at the time.
“Mr. Rothenberg stayed on me, made sure I was going to class and completing assignments, and helped me figure out what I needed to do in order to catch up and graduate on time,” said Jamal. “But the best part about CIS, both the kids and Mr. Rothenberg, was how accepting they were of me. They didn’t treat me like a criminal, and they didn’t judge my past. With Mr. Rothenberg, it was always like, ‘That’s all in the past. What can we do now, going forward, to get you back on track?’”
It was Rothenberg who took Jamal to his first college fair, and arranged for him to complete the paperwork needed for a Pell grant and an application to attend Central Piedmont Community College. Jamal says he had forgotten about the paperwork, and as graduation approached, he wasn’t sure of his immediate plans but was considering the military. Then Jamal attended an end of year lunch celebration for CIS students at Waddell, where Rothenberg announced each CIS senior by name and their choice of college or post-high school plans. “I was not expecting to hear my name at all,” said Jamal, “and then Mr. Rothenberg called my name, followed by ‘Central Piedmont Community College.’ I was so surprised – that’s how I learned I had been accepted to college!”
Jamal is now thriving at CPCC. In addition to his classes and work-study job, he’s involved in numerous campus clubs and activities. Jamal – along with several other CPCC freshman who are also CIS-Charlotte graduates – have even formed a new club aimed at college freshman, “Communities In Colleges,” modeled after Communities In Schools’ mission to help students stay in school (PK-12) and prepare for life after high school. According to Jamal, Communities In Colleges serves as a resource and support group for incoming freshmen at CPCC to help them have a smoother transition from high school and be successful in college. It is now an officially sanctioned CPCC student organization, thanks to Jamal’s idea and and recruitment of other CIS alum to help.
“Communities In Schools changed my life,” says Jamal. “I love going back and speaking to students in high school, because I know what this program did for me. I’m committed to my education now and I’m excited about my future, thanks to CIS.”