Don't X Me Out: From Mississippi to the Ivy League: 2 students reflect on their unique journeys

exministriesDon't X Me Out9 Comments

From Mississippi to the Ivy League: 2 students reflect on their unique journeys

By Evan Puschak, MSNBC 

tumblr_mr41bbgHxR1qc52lxo1_1280Travis Reginal and Justin Porter of Jackson, Mississippi, have accomplished something extraordinary by any measure: they were accepted into Ivy League universities.

Reginal wrapped up his freshman year at Yale in May; Porter did the same at Harvard. But in parallel pieces for The New York Times Sunday, the two young men wrote about why their success is stained with feelings of guilt.

“We jump over these hoops in high school. We take the required classes. We take the standardized tests. And they kind of put us on a trajectory,” said Porter on The Last Word Monday. “My entire question, what I was grappling with was, was my trajectory going in a direction that was opposite of that of the people who I love and have been around for my entire life?”

William B. Murrah High School, where Reginal and Porter got their secondary education, is 97% African American and 67% low income, according to the Times. As African-Americans from low income families, Reginal and Porter are no exceptions. Living within means has made them sensitive to the cost of higher education and all that comes with it.

Reginal chose Yale courses with the least expensive textbooks; Porter considered deferring his acceptance for fear that his mother “would not have enough to eat, a safe place to live, loving company to listen to her stories.” His mother insisted otherwise.

This is another thing Porter and Reginal share: strong, single mothers emphatic about the importance of education.

Porter’s mother prohibited television, rap music, even basketball–something Porter admits he resented a little–but this inspired him to spend free time in extracurriculars..
like the school paper (of which he was editor) and the National Honor Society (of which he was president). He even founded a speech and debate club which Reginal later joined.

Their mothers’ love, despite what pundits like Bill O’Reilly have said about the “disintegration of the African-American family,” is the vital ingredient to these two young men’s success.

It’s also what made them hesitant to leave their homes in Mississippi for schools in the Northeast. In anaffecting poem entitled “MotherFather,” Reginal remembers the feeling of arriving in a new world.

To hear a full reading of the poem by Reginal himself, see the Last Word‘s Rewrite clip below. Here’s an excerpt:

“I remember being in the airport at the beginning of my freshman year in college, Suitcase full of insecurities and doubts, With a pocket full of literary tricks up my sleeve, And a penchant for smiling my way through everything.
But that day gratitude didn’t have enough room in my chest. Nothing could stop the levies in my eyes from breaking. Tears that resembled waterfalls Spelled your name on my cheeks and stained my plane tickets.
No, this feeling has to be more than love. Because words will never be enough To describe a woman whose laugh is like the first meal in a while for a starving child.”

In their pieces, Reginal and Porter write about the unique hardships of getting into good schools for low-income African American youth.

Reginal notes that many students may not even know what is required to be considered by an Ivy League institution. And the lack of support and preparation, he says, extends to the college campus.

“People talked about resources for first-generation students. But during the school year I had no clue where those resources were,” Reginal writes. “I was lost navigating courses, and took classes I thought I could cope with but were not the best for the skills I wanted.”

The data bears out Reginal’s experience. A new study by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl from Georgetown University found that only 14% of students at the most competitive colleges and universities come from families who live below the median income.

This percentage, The New York Times’ Richard Perez-Pena wrote last weekhas not grown over more than two decades, “an indication that a generation of pledges to diversify has not amounted to much.”


On The Last Word, Reginal recalled being in elementary school and seeing a film that mentioned Harvard and Yale, referring to it as “the epitome of the American Dream.” Since then, he never thought the dream was impossible.


9 Comments on “Don't X Me Out: From Mississippi to the Ivy League: 2 students reflect on their unique journeys”

  1. Great Story! Folks lets not be so cynical. Regardless of what we may assume about MSNBC or any media outlet for that matter. This doesn’t deny that fact that these mothers should be proud of their sons. READ THE STORY! “I see nothing in this article that mentions Jesus Christ.” Really!? Consider your commentary, this article was posted specifically to encourage single mothers. Everything we post or gather will not always “mention” Jesus Christ. – Tetaun (

  2. I am sure that these boys mothers are proud of them. However, even this kind of success can be in vain. What exactly defines success? Also, this story goes beyond this. I feel that MSNBC used those young boys to make a point. And the sad thing is they probably don’t even know it. I think going to college can be a good thing. But what then? If God is not the head of lives…then a college degree is pointless just like any other vain success. I congratulated the young men for achieving their goals. I didn’t mean to take a way from that. However, I am dealing with a college graduate that is going to school now to get her masters. She thinks this is everything. She is my daughter. Yes, she achieved something that none of her other siblings have…but she is really messed up. A college degree want get her into heaven and that is my concern. I know this want get published and I am fine with that. I just had to say my peace. Sorry, I saw beyond the hype of going to a prestige college.

  3. This is a story of encouragement:
    1. For single mothers, including Christian women and especially single Black mothers.
    2. For young Black men to recognize that God gave us a variety of talents and Black people
    can do more than break dance, hip-hop, wear stupid clothes, talk silly jargon,
    sing drug/crime/sexaholic songs etc. but MOST OF ALL:
    3. Black men can achieve other pinnacles of success BESIDES: SPORTS and the worship of the
    modern day SPORTS IDOLS.

    We should pray for these guys that they glorify God and that other young Black men in particular both come to know Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and glorify Him in every aspect of their lives while they live on this
    earth. (Let’s pray that they also marry, if desirous to mate, and raise up well balanced Black families.)

  4. this is a great story.

    but i’m unsure of why the article mentioned race.

    the defining issue here is that these boys are from low-income families, and very few kids from low-income families get into or choose to go to highly-selective universities. mentioning race puts blackness into a monolithic box. i’m sure even the boys would refute its inclusion into the article, because i’m sure they met plenty of Black students in college with whom they couldn’t relate at all because of their differences in socioeconomic status. the operative term here is “low-income,” not “Black.”

    anyway, thanks for this. there are lots of things many of us don’t even think about in terms of the challenges low-income kids have to face. and unfortunately, these are the factors which keep the poor generationally poor.

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