Subject of book inspires students

Cedric Jennings walked onto the stage with a smile as the volume of applause in the Weasler Auditorium went up a notch.

Jennings gave a talk, titled "Reflections on a Hope in the Unseen," at the Weasler Tuesday night. A question and answer session and a book signing followed Jennings' speech.

About 250 students, faculty and community members attended the Manresa Project-sponsored event, which was part of Mission Week.

Dionne Eastmo, student affairs coordinator for the Manresa Project, said Jennings' example should act as an inspiration to Marquette students, and not just those assigned to read the book.

"I think that his story is an example of someone not giving up and relying on their faith to pull them through the tough times," Eastmo said. "That applies to all students not just students who read the book." Jennings is the protagonist in the chosen text for this year's Manresa Project, "A Hope in the Unseen," which every incoming Marquette freshman was required to read. The book chronicles his experiences at Ballo High School in Washington D.C. and at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Students said Jennings' address helped to bring the book to life from the abstract page.

"I really enjoyed it," freshman Nicki Roden said. "His whole discussion about how you need a purpose went along with the Mission Week theme. I thought it was a good way to tie it all together-the book, the discussion and college."

"I think one of the nicest things about it is putting a personality to the book," freshman Conor Sweeney said. "The idea is to have courage and perseverance. You can take this beyond race."

Before his talk at the Weasler, Jennings appeared on the morning news on Channel 12 and ate lunch with the McNair Scholars, part of the Educational Opportunity Program. After speaking Jennings dined with the Unity floor, a program of the Multicultural Center.

At his talk Jennings stressed the significance of being assertive and following dreams.

"You can make it no matter what people tell you," Jennings said. "Be bold."

Jennings graduated from Balloo High School and got his bachelors degree in Educational Studies from Brown University in 1999. He then got a masters degree in Education and Risk from Harvard University and a masters in Clinical Social Work at University of Michigan.

"I stand in victory," Jennings said. "But I never forget where I come from. Along the way I recognized the importance of remembering where I come from."

Jennings talked about religion being a major force in his life. He remembers his mother taking him to church three to four times a week. He also spoke a lot about his mother as a spiritual guide.

"I didn't understand why I had to go all the time early on," Jennings said. "In raising me, my mom gave me a strong spiritual foundation. Church was always a part of my life. It will always be a part of my life."

Jennings described Balloo High School as having scarce resources. He said extra credit and school activities were necessary, in addition to going to classes. Jennings also mentioned how he was involved with college preparatory programs such as MS Squares and MITES at MIT and how that changed his perspective on himself and African Americans as a whole.

"African Americans are not a monolithic group of people," Jennings said. "There were black people that came from money, vacationing on islands, owning islands. I mean, we can hardly pay rent in Southeast D.C., and you own an island."

Jennings met journalist Ron Suskind, author of "A Hope in the Unseen," on May 26, 1994, in his high school principal's office. He said he was reluctant to let Suskind into his personal life, claiming he and his mother were very private people. He also told Suskind that getting permission from his mother would be hard.

"He was very careful and very respectful," Jennings said. "He got our trust when he gave up his own sense of knowingness."

He went on to say he changed his career goals from engineering to working with youth when he got to Brown University.

"I started working with young people in Providence," Jennings said. "Many of them needed God. Many of them needed purpose. I quickly realized where my heart was."