Quinn Rallins: Morehouse Grad Beats the Odds, Debunks Myths
I was poised to make this the first Wordless Wednesday on my blog. If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, Wordless Wednesday is the day that some bloggers set aside to feature a particularly compelling photo that truly captures the mood of the moment.
Because this blog is education-oriented, however, it’s been a little more difficult to find relevant current photos than I had anticipated, especially given that the mainstream news sites seem a bit less than inclined toward publishing photos and stories about Black people graduating from college (the story that I wished to commemorate in today’s images).
Even more difficult was the task of locating pictures of the young man who I simply have to celebrate on this day. His name is Quinn Rallins, and he graduated from Morehouse College this past weekend. His story is compelling and inspiring, but while news outlets across the country have scrambled to cover the story of Joshua Packwood, his classmate and the first white student to be named as class valedictorian at the historically Black institution, only the Chicago Tribune has seen fit to cover the inspiring story of Quinn Rallins.
In the interests of being, if not wordless on this Wednesday, then certainly less wordy, allow me to let Chicago Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton tell Mr. Rallins’s story:
For 141 years, the nation’s only college dedicated to educating African-American men has graduated “Morehouse Men” representing success and pride within the black community.
Two decades ago, few people would have thought that someone from Rallins’ background would have landed here, graduating magna cum laude and joining the ranks of such Morehouse graduates as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and filmmaker Spike Lee.
Growing up on Chicago’s South Side with a mother who struggled with alcohol and crack cocaine abuse, Rallins was among a wave inner-city babies exposed to crack in their mother’s womb, children written off by much of society as a lost generation doomed to failure.
With crack-cocaine abuse peaking in the mid-1980s in cities such as Chicago, experts said, America waged a war on drugs fueled by flawed data that warned of neurologically and socially damaged children who would flood the nation’s public schools and, later, its prisons.
As it turned out, that did not happen. But the stigma surrounding “crack babies” remained.
“In the 1980s and early ’90s there was this unscientific panic based on minimal data that this was an intrauterine exposure that was damaging like nothing ever seen in humanity, that these kids would be unlovable, retarded criminals,” said Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrics professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
“This fantasy panic around crack mainly had to do with the social aspect of the drug, with the inner city, with violence,” Frank said.
There is not enough long-term research available to determine what happened to most of the drug-exposed children from the 1980s and 1990s. However, many children never escape the impact of a negative environment.
But Rallins is an example of what can happen to disadvantaged children with self-determination and proper nurturing.
He acknowledges that life was not easy for him and his younger sister. Police often were called when his mother, high on alcohol and drugs, got out of control.
“Mom would get drunk and hit me. I had to call the cops and send her to the drunk tank a couple of times,” he said. “When you’re a kid, you don’t understand what’s going on. You see mood changes and you think that’s normal. It got to where I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Finding his escape
Rallins found an escape in school. An avid reader, a positive trait from his mother, he excelled academically at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, a public school on the South Side. His father moved out when he was young, but Rallins said they remain close.
At age 14, his aunt, Yvonne Womack, a Chicago Public Schools administrator, took him in. His mother, Gail Rallins, suffered a seizure and died in 2006, during his sophomore year in college.
“My aunt’s house was a place of peace,” Rallins said. “She gave me a place that allowed me to grow. She had books everywhere, even in the bathroom.”
Following a tour of black colleges, Rallins said he immediately was drawn to Morehouse.
“The classroom is one place I always felt I had full control over my future. I grew up never having a lot of benefits. I never got a new car for making straight A’s,” said Rallins, adding that his mother instilled in him the value of education. “I did it to carry me to the future, for the sake of doing the right thing.”
As a result, scholarships poured in. He turned down the University of Chicago and Stanford University.
Now the man who never had been out of the United States before college has traveled to 36 countries. His sister, Jessica, 20, is a sophomore at Illinois State University.
He has worked with HIV and AIDS patients in the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Morehouse helped him get there.
On Sunday, before 41 relatives who traveled to see him, Rallins earned a dual degree in international studies and Spanish. This summer he will spend two months teaching English in Malaysia as an Amnesty International fellow. He has applied for graduate school at Oxford University in England, where he hopes to earn a master’s degree in comparative social policy. He plans to work in the human-rights field on a global scale.
“This is a great time to be young, gifted and black,” Rallins said. “Twenty years from now, I want to say I contributed.
“I might be up for a Nobel Prize for my human-rights work in Africa.”
To read the Chicago Tribune article in its entirety, click HERE.
Posted by Ajuan Mance
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