An MU grad student forms an unlikely bond with an overlooked teen
Certain types of giving are hard to measure. One could tally up volunteer hours, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. One could try to add up money donated, but there typically aren’t donation slips to count. Jimmie Jones’ type of giving is rare and difficult to quantify, but it’s a way of life that he has adopted wholeheartedly. Simply put, it is giving oneself entirely.
Jimmie grew up in Detroit. His mom and others in his life steered him toward sports to keep him off the streets and out of trouble. In 2003, he came to MU on a track scholarship and quickly became involved in the community through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Following his senior year at MU, Jimmie worked as a playground supervisor at Derby Ridge Elementary School and then as a substitute teacher at Rock Bridge High School. Faculty members began approaching him for help with adjusting behavioral patterns they saw among students. It was while working with Dana Harris, a guidance counselor at Oakland Junior High School, that Jimmie first met Tre Holder in the Boys Empowerment Club.
Tre, a 16-year-old going into his junior year at Hickman High School, has 16 siblings spread out among various family members and foster families. He was in 19 foster care placements before he turned 16; the longest stay was six months. He’s been in legal trouble before, and he has a daughter, Mari, who is 9 months old.
These are just the facts of his situation. Look beyond these statistics, and you’ll see a good-looking, quiet boy who loves rap music and tends to internalize his problems. He says he wants to be a music producer when he graduates from college, and he has been recording his own rap songs since he was in sixth grade.
Jimmie has a lot in common with Tre, which helped them bond, Dana says.
Tre was put into different foster homes, each with its own set of issues that prevented a connection with Tre. “With him and Jimmie, it’s like they just mesh together,” Dana says. “He’s connected with him because Jimmie gets him.”
Tre was up for his 20th foster care placement in January. When Jimmie, now a graduate student in the college of education at MU, made the decision to become Tre’s legal guardian, the people he encountered in the process were baffled, he says. Not only was he an atypical guardian, but he was also taking in a kid whom others had passed over. Nevertheless, Tre moved into Jimmie’s duplex on Sunday, Feb. 5.
Jimmie’s first goal with Tre was to help him focus on school. After talking to the staff at Hickman, Jimmie found that Tre had been invisible, and those who did see him tended to see his past.
“I went straight up to the school and made sure the counselors and teachers understand that his trajectory is changing — he’s got all the potential in the world, and he’s not just about to graduate high school, he’s about to get into any college that he wants to,” Jimmie says. “And they’re looking at me like I’m crazy, and I’m looking at them like they’re crazy for looking at me like I’m crazy.”
That’s often all it takes to make a difference, Jimmie says. It only takes one person who believes so strongly in another to make that person believe in him or herself.
The staff now sees what Jimmie sees in Tre: a bright, musically inclined boy with a lot of potential.
That’s not the only change. Tre has turned his assignment grades, which were once Ds and Fs, into As and Bs. He’s employed, he won an award for good behavior at Hickman, and he says he is truly happy.