The following are letters to the editor taking issue with Catalyst’s February update on James Snowden, one of nine students Catalyst is tracking as part of its “College Challenge” series.
My name is James Snowden, a student at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and the recent subject of one of your feature articles. My first thought about the magazine Catalyst was that it was a source of good influence, positive publicity, and sure facts. However, for the last two weeks you have misrepresented my school, my family, and me.
I cannot say how humiliated I am and ashamed of the article that was written about me. It was based on unproven assumptions and false information. I have worked very hard this year to maintain my credibility as a seriously motivated student. I was made physically ill to see a great picture in the magazine only to be followed by the total negativity of an entire page of untruths. I only wish that the reporter would have put herself in my shoes and try to explain the contents of this article to the hundreds of students and teachers who are bewildered by all of this information.
I have known since my freshman year that one must pursue every opportunity no matter how small or big. I chose not to attend the Posse Foundation meeting. I misinterpreted the goal of the program; however it was my decision not to attend. I have nothing to lose by filling out every scholarship application that comes into my hands; however I complete them as time permits.
As far as UNCF colleges are concerned, I am considering Florida A and M University as one of my top choices. I was said to have taken no steps to apply to any college, especially a UNCF School because, “Stanford was my top choice.” I wish that Catalyst had researched why my application was given directly to the President of Florida A & M University.
Furthermore, the article fails to mention the universities that have come to see me based on academics and football. Just because my coaches did not go through my counselor does not mean that your paper should print that I have received no athletic scholarships. I wonder why the University of Chicago, one of the top schools in the country, has come to see me based on academic achievement and football play.
What about Stanford University? I was said to have taken no initiative to apply, but many times I looked in those file cabinets in my counselor’s office only to find many applications to wonderful community colleges, I admit, but no applications to the major universities? Even after I expressed interest in this prestigious school, why was no application made available?
One may say, “I should be looking for applications.” I was looking. After I requested the information on Stanford, not an application, but a flyer was given to me. However this did not deter me; I utilized the Internet and searched for an application only to see a closed deadline. Did I stop there? No, I took the phone number and called the school to explain my situation. Afterwards, I asked my counselor if she would call. The reporter did not mention any of this in the article; she only emphasized the perceived lack of effort on my part.
She also failed to mention that I visited Notre Dame before the winter break. How could I have been showing no interest in school or having “senioritis?” I am upset when I think of how the writer of this article had to go completely out of her way to find something totally negative in order to write a completely “degrading” article about what I have done, or not have done, without considering me, the subject of the article.
What was the purpose of this piece? Why was my counselor the only source used for the many negative views in this article that the entire world may read? I wondered for approximately three days, “How could she neglect to mention my many accomplishments this year alone”?
Why was there no mention of Bernie Mac and the possible scholarship he promised to try to set up for me through FOX television? If not that, what about the Wendy’s Heisman Candidate recognition award? What about my achievements in the Academic Decathlon?
It just seems so funny— no, not funny at all— that the entire focus of this article was that of negativity and a complete detour from the facts. All of us would profit by everyone, especially the far-reaching news media, to project positive and inspiring images for their intended audiences. I challenge you to do another article after having interviewed me.
James Snowden, senior
Chicago Vocational Career Academy
Today I viewed a copy of the aforementioned article and frankly was stunned by the negative overtones depicted throughout the article. As a guidance counselor my first responsibility is to my students. I will always place their needs and goals above the need for a reporter to write a sensational article at the expense of my students.
I was apalled that my answer to a direct question concerning the Posse Foundation was blown up into a piece that somehow is interpreted that a student dropped the ball or acted irresponsibly. When I revealed to you that James was one of twenty-four students nominated for Posse, I didn’t realize that his decision not to attend the interview was an indication that he was somehow fumbling away his post-secondary future. According to your article 800 students were nominated but only 306 showed up for the initial interview. Are you prepared to write personal articles on those 494 who didn’t elect to show up for their interview as also “fumbling despite support?”
Of course the counselor in me would have loved for all 24 of my nominees to show up for their Posse interview and all be granted 4-year full scholarships. The American citizen in me respects the right of all my students and their parents/guardians to make choices on any information given to them. My job is to provide guidance not to make decisions for my students. I will continue to provide my students with all the information that I have at my disposal to help them chart their educational future.
James in consultation with his mother decided that he wasn’t interested in any of the colleges serviced by Posse. James applied to the University of Chicago, Florida A&M and the University of Notre Dame. The Pullman Foundation has James’s application under review. James without a doubt will be successful at any college or university of his choice because of his determination, academic acumen, drive to succeed, and his strong support system.
Please don’t misquote me by saying James is suffering from “senioritis,” and then proceed to make a case that this means he is fumbling away his future. James is still our number one senior after seven semesters.
I must also reveal that the negative tone of this article will make me skeptical if not reluctant in the future to share information that should result in applause of an inner-city African-American male student who has maintained a number one rank for four years; successfully played on our athletic teams; been a great role model for his younger brother; exhibited leadership ability; beaten the odds of gang affiliations and succeeded against many odds.
Too often the media reports what it interprets as what is happening on the surface without asking and reporting on the essential question— Why is this happening?
My final quote for publication— “James Snowden— Succeeds In Spite of the Odds.”
Shirley Carter, counselor
In a recent article, “James Snowden Fumbles Despite Support,” the Catalyst presented a most unfair, poorly documented and humiliating profile of the 2002 Chicago Vocational Career Academy valedictorian. It was indeed shocking and irfuriating to see James
Snowden portrayed as a “slacker” and “snob” who had been infected with a gross case of “senioritis.”
The James Snowden I know is just the antithesis; he is keenly intelligent,confident, industrious and focused. If this young man is guilty of anything, it is overextending himself to pursue greater academic, athletic and humanitarian goals.
Because the content of this article is potentially damaging to James’ future educational pursuits, I am compelled to challenge some of the “implied” messages that might give colleges and funding organizations a distorted view of one of the most outstanding young men I have had the privilege of mentoring for three and a half years.
First, let us examine the issue of”senioritis.” James has maintained a 4.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.
He won several medals in the Chicago Public Schools’ 2002 Academic Decathlon Competition. While playing on the CVCA football, basketball, and track teams, James also committed himself to church and mentoring activities. Additionally, he has amassed over seventy community service hours, thirty hours over the required number of forty.
James applied for the Bill Gates Scholarship very early and asked me to serve as his nominator. Because I did not complete the recommendation and other materials right away, James came to check on my progress on at least three occasions. He explained that he simply wanted to make sure his application was submitted early. I then assured him that I would write the recommendation over the Christmas Break so that the application would be ready to submit approximately two months in advance of the deadline. Now, is this the picture of someone who has dropped the ball?
Secondly, the article suggests that James Snowden has snubbed colleges associated with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the Posse Foundation. James has a clear idea of the career he plans to pursue in the future. He is therefore tailoring applications to those schools that he thinks will provide the greatest opportunities in his field. Since he is not particularly interested in attending small schools, he chose not to apply to Posse. This decision was not based on any inflated idea that he was “too good” for those
colleges as the article implies.
As for UNCF schools, James did apply to Florida
Agricultural and Mechanical University and recently informed me that it is one of his top choices.
The “innuendoes” associated with snobbery are particularly demeaning since it is widely known that James is down to earth, relates well with peers and teachers and is extremely well-liked and appreciated in the school and community. He is self-directed and confident—not cocky.
Finally, I have a few burning questions: why does the article imply that Stanford is a lofty goal for James? Does he not have a right to dream “big?” Do we punish him for having high expectations? Does he not possess the academic credentials to succeed in highly selective colleges and universities? Doesn’t college-counseling entail more than simply handing a student an application to fill out and mail? Shouldn’t the counselor take time to interview the student to discover his interests and goals?
Is it not the responsibility of a reporter to investigate a story—perhaps interview more than one source? Doesn’t it seem suspicious that James was not extended an opportunity to respond to the accusations before the article was published?
I submit that it is not James Snowden who has fumbled; it is the CATALYST. James Lawrence Snowden III has been scoring “touchdowns” since he first entered CVCA in 1999 as a bright, energetic young thinker determined to rise to the top of his class.
Lula Covington, teacher
This letter is to indicate my strong concern over the College Challenge Article featuring Chicago Vocational Career Academy student James Snowden. I know that one of the primary responsibilities of a journalist is to check with a number of sources to ensure maximum accuracy.
As the Education-to-Careers Coordinator at Chicago Vocational, I have worked with James on a number of projects, events and activities. I am aware of the staff members at Chicago Vocational who are close to James, and who are more than willing to give you a well-rounded perspective on the student, as well as insights into his personal circumstances and academic objectives.
One such person is teacher Lula Covington who has mentored James through much of his college and scholarship preparation. Also, did you interview James himself? I am sure that you are aware that permission to interview students may be obtained from the parents.
I recommend that you at least contact Ms. Covington, so that you can present both sides of this issue. You may also wish to contact his major teacher, Ms. Anniece Scott, his National Honor Society/Beta Club Sponsor, Mrs. Leslie Collins-Moore, and/or his Academic Decathlon Coach, Ms. Margaret Fyfe. In the article, one counselor is interviewed and quoted. Our Counselors are diligent and dedicated professionals, as well as wonderful individuals, but because they service hundreds upon hundreds of students, they are not always the individuals who are most familiar with the students, or who have the most direct relationships with them.
What was the intent of the article? If you were trying to encourage other students to follow-through on their applications and opportunities, I am not sure the most effective manner in which to do this was by cutting-down a student who has overcome all manner of adversity to make highly significant and impressive scholastic achievements and personal accomplishments. His complete story would inspire and motivate countless other students to strive to be the best they could be.
Whatever the intent, please allow me to describe the aftermath to you. The article’s impact on James was hurtful and demeaning. It severely undermined his credibility as a role model to other students, and called into question his integrity, his seriousness of purpose, and his reputation.
The subtitle “Fumbles despite support” gave the reading public a spin that James was dropping the ball, behaving in an irresponsible, lackadaisical spoiled and/or even entitled manner.
Many students who looked up to him and who were very proud of him here at CVCA,could well feel deflated and confused. You cut down their hero, and therefore, trivialized them in the process.
James is someone whose commitment to excellence is exemplary, but the article is not balanced with the incredible accomplishments and contributions of this young man. How is this a positive, constructive or productive portrayal of the facts?
James has applied to several colleges. He and Mrs. Covington can share this information with you. It is not his intention to disregard any solid opportunities for the attainment of his goals. He is a most appreciative and endearing young man who does not ignore or minimize any of the assistance or guidance given to him. It is just that he had already mapped out the direction for his career development plan prior to his senior year. He intends to go into International Business and is [applying] to those institutions that [can] efficiently and effectively advance him toward that goal and that career.
One of the reasons James knew which schools he wanted to contact was because of his respect and confidence in the advice that his many mentors had given him. This did not mean he was rejecting the other schools. He was simply directing his attention to those schools that are appropriate to the particular major and specific profession he had chosen. Had he selected another major and his intent was to enter another field, then perhaps the other schools alluded to may have been more appropriate.
I am certain that because of your concern for this young man, you wish to know that he is taking positive steps to attend and fund college. I am equally sure that you do not just want to leave the impression that he is “fumbling” and then abandon him and the matter. I believe that your wish for him and other students is to excel and succeed in college, as well as in their chosen fields.
Therefore, it is my earnest request that you once again address James and this time include his progress toward his goal. There is no reason why James would be so committed to his plans, and then just forsake everything.
Please also contact those faculty members who know him best, if you want to present a more accurate account of his experiences.
In all fairness, it is incumbent upon you to present a more balanced and factually representative article. If you want to motivate him and other students to meet the college challenge, then encourage, do not discourage. Build them up, do not tear them down.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Ellen James Thornton
Editor’s note: Catalyst’s June 2001 article on James Snowden described his many outstanding accomplishments despite having been in and out of 10 elementary schools. Our February 2002 update on the steps he had taken toward college enrollment was written in January and based on interviews conducted in November with James and in December with his college counselor. Our reporter tried repeatedly to contact James again, even stopping by his home, but he did not respond. We look forward to reporting on his progress since he last talked to us.