Jamal Trotman had a roller coaster of a senior year.
Five months ago, Trotman, a star student and athlete at Ocean Hill’s Eagle Academy, had SAT scores under review. He had missed crucial college application deadlines, and was recovering after a serious knee surgery from football.
”It’s kind of a setback,” he told Chalkbeat at the time. “This right here is my make-it-or-break-it for my future.”
But this past Tuesday, Trotman graduated with two prestigious scholarships. In the auditorium of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, he cheered, danced and hugged his friends and family. His blue graduation cap said “Morehouse ’20” — the historically black college in Atlanta he plans to attend next year.
“I’m excited. The way I see it, Atlanta is just, like, an up-and-coming city, something similar to Manhattan,” Trotman said. “I feel like it’s the perfect place for college and to start my life.”
In many ways, Trotman is lucky. A combination of hard work and sound mentorship helped him avoid the pitfalls that trip up so many of his peers. Across New York State, less than 60 percent of male students of color graduate from high school.
But his story remains a chilling illustration of how a talented young man almost had his college dreams dashed by a simple misunderstanding.
In May of his junior year, Trotman, a star student at his school, took the SAT, but he thought he could skate by without answering all the questions. He ended up with an 890 — far below the threshold of any college he wanted to attend.
After a higher-score retest was flagged by the testing company as suspicious, Trotman worked with his advisors to demonstrate academic progress. In the meantime, he applied to schools with his old test scores.
“He had a few months where he was extremely discouraged because he put in so much hard work to put up those scores,” said his principal, Rashad Meade. “That can really traumatize a young man, especially when you are doing the right thing.”
If he was worried, it didn’t show when he met Hillary Clinton at an April fundraising event for Eagle Academy. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said she wanted to see the schools’ approach “spread across America.”
Yet, even as Trotman shared the stage with Clinton and proudly announced that he had gotten into college, he remained unsure of which school he would attend. He told Chalkbeat at the time that he might have to go to a CUNY school and then transfer.
But that’s not what happened. The day after the Clinton event, he got good news via email: He had gotten into Morehouse College.
While he was initially hesitant about going to another all-male school, he knew it was a prestigious one.
“After doing a lot of research, I saw a lot of alums, I met a lot of alums at Morehouse, and I saw the way they carry themselves and how they’re successful,” Trotman said. He decided to accept.
Trotman’s story could have been very different, though, if Eagle Academy hadn’t intervened. Meade said school leaders reached out to Morehouse to put in a good word for Trotman while he was still fighting to get his scores. It was help he deserved, Meade said.
“For more affluent children, this is just par for the course. Those children can make one thousand and one mistakes,” he said. “Our young men don’t have that necessarily.”
Trotman still has challenges in front of him. Chief among them is figuring out how to pay for college. For the past few days, since school ended, he’s been filling out scholarship applications, he said. Morehouse costs more than $40,000 with tuition and fees and while he might be eligible for some financial aid, he has only raised a few thousand dollars in scholarships so far.
Still, he has been able to overcome the ordeal regarding his test scores rather than letting that derail him.
“Another child going through a similar situation could be completely disengaged and say. ‘I earned this grade. This system is attacking me. Forget school.’” Meade said. “That’s a child that is going to sit on the sidelines the rest of their life and let that define them.”
“We’ll never know what we prevented,” Meade added, “and I’m glad that we’ll never know.”