Chicago Public Schools Parent Wants Son to Get Second Chance | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Chicago Public Schools Parent Wants Son to Get Second Chance

In the middle of this school year, Chicago's Robeson High school kicked student Demetrius Davis out, saying he wasn't cutting it. The school says Demetrius and his mom both need to take some responsibility for what happened and Mrs Davis agrees. She's committed to getting her son educated, but she's had some severe set backs herself. Mrs. Davis now worries that her efforts to help him may be too late. 

Series: 50/50: The Odds of Graduating

Mary Davis went to jail for three months back in 2004 for stealing from a store. She was a heroine and cocaine user at the time. And she admits she had pretty much failed her children.

DAVIS: I started hanging with the wrong crowd and I stopped volunteering at the school. My oldest son got out and he started selling drugs and I started using. My habit got so bad that I stopped taking care of my other responsibilities.

The good thing about that jail experience says Davis, is that she went through drug treatment programs, and parenting programs.

When she got out she was drug free and eager to make amends.

She especially wanted to bring 16-year-old Demetrius back off the streets, before it was too late.

DAVIS: I started off spending a lot of time with him. I spent a lot of time going and getting him off the block. He was hanging out with my 20-year-old they were like best of friends. So I used to go get them and ride with them and get him something to eat. You know things that we haven't did. We just talked and Demetrius told me how good it feels to have me back. 

Davis sits on the couch of her two bedroom apartment holding her month old baby, Jesse. Her 4-year-old, Sterling, is across the street at preschool. Her daughter Mercedes is playing cards with Demetrius. Her brother Jack is over. Mrs. Davis is from a large family herself—10 kids.

DAVIS: 7 boys and 3 girls. I'm the baby girl.

Davis' family is from Cahoma, Mississippi. They moved to Chicago when Davis was 3, moved into the Robert Taylor public housing project.

DAVIS: I can't really remember too much about my childhood but I went to DuSable High. I dropped out in my sophomore year, got pregnant with my first child at age 16.

Demetrius is also a parent at age 16. Mrs. Davis had him move in with her last year, and enroll at nearby Robeson High. She says school gave him something to focus on. It's true he was on probation and going to school because the courts said he had to, but she didn't care what the reason was: she began to see him changing.

DAVIS: Since he been back with me this last past year he been doing great, he haven't been in any trouble. He was smoking marijuana, he stopped smoking marijuana and he stopped selling it, he stopped hanging out on the blocks he was hanging out on. He just been doing the right thing now. Because he know momma ain't going to go for it.

Mrs. Davis connected with Demetrius' mentor at Robeson High, Rodney Thomas. Thomas could see the mother and son trying to sort out their new relationship. He watched Davis try to wean her son from the streets.
 
THOMAS: He was conditioned to fight, he was conditioned to survive. By all these key people taking him out of this environment and telling him he's loved, that there are people who love him. I think he has attached himself to that and I think a big part of that change too, is his mom.

Thomas encouraged Davis to step in at Robeson when she had to. They both new Demetrius' girlfriends were causing him, and the school, problems.
On this afternoon, a teacher had put Demetrius in a head lock because he thought Demetrius was hurting a girl in the hallway. It turned out Demetrius was helping pull one girl away from fighting another. In the office, the school's Mr. Brashears meets with Mrs. Davis.

DAVIS: How can he learn every time he gets kicked out of school? I'm so tired of this.

Several other mothers waiting in the school office nod their heads in agreement.

DAVIS: So can you all please talk to him?
BRASHEARS: Oh yeah! We would do that but—
DAVIS: Thank you.
BRASHEARS: But every time she sees him talking to another girl she's going to jump up on him.
DAVIS: Then you all need to talk to her about that. She need to know she can't do that. There's going to be consequences against her. Womens can get the message too. She need to know that.
SCHOOL: What's your name?
DAVIS: Mary Davis.

Like the other moms in the waiting room, Mrs. Davis is struggling to control her teenage son. She's trying to teach him the lesson she learned when she dropped out of school.

DAVIS: I can get a job but it's not the kind of job where I can depend on to take care of my babies and myself and be able to live the way I want to live. So, I've been trying to tell him it's real hard out here without a high school diploma or a GED.

But by January, Demetrius had missed 27 days of school. Mrs. Davis knew he wasn't going. She says she got tired of trying to get him there.

DAVIS: I'm his mom and I know for a fact that he really wasn't taking school serious because I never seen any paper or pencil or books going to and from school with him. I'm really saying that Meechie really didn't take it serious. I wish he'd gotten more help than he did but he really wouldn't listen to me so I knew he wouldn't listen to someone else.

At the end of the month Mr Brashears called Mrs Davis and Demetrius in and told them it would be better for him to start looking for an alternative school. They didn't want him there any more. This is a blow. But it's not the end of the story, as far as Mrs. Davis is concerned. 

Ambi: church baptism

After he got dropped, Demetrius told Mr. Thomas, his mentor at the school that he wanted to get baptized at Thomas' church.

Ambi: "In the name of the son…Yes yes yes!" 

DAVIS: It's just too hard to believe, my son getting baptized. It's just too hard to believe.

Ambi: "Thank you lord, thank you thank you thank you.

Even though Demetrius has now moved out and is living with his girlfriend. Even though he's not in school anymore. Mrs. Davis still sees him as a world away from where he was a year ago.

He's not in jail, he's not selling drugs, he's spending time with his son. She wants him back in school, but she knows he's got to want it too.

Mrs. Davis says she is convinced of one thing. She says if she can turn her life around, so can her son.

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