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This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s “This I Believe” with Mary Kay Jennings, Ph.D

Dr. Jennings has been an English professor and creative writing instructor at San Jacinto Junior College for more than 25 years. She says the work is challenging, but ultimately rewarding. In her essay, she recalls an interesting student and how he benefited from the power of narrative.



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Dr. Mary Kay Jennings moved to Houston in the late ’80s with her husband and three sons. Education has defined her professional life and like with most teachers, education is an extension of her personal life. She admits being an English professor and Creative Writing Instructor at a community college is challenging. She says most of her students are first-generation college students and in many cases, English is not their first language. That requires Dr. Jennings to focus on some basic language instruction before she can hone their writing skills. In the end, Dr. Jennings says the process benefits both her and her students.

Here’s Dr. Mary Kay Jennings with her essay for KUHF’s This I Believe.
“As an English professor in a community college; I have witnessed the power of narrative many times, but never more convincingly than in my creative writing class.

And Vince’s story is one of many.

At age 19, Vince was on probation for ‘a serious crime,’ and slated to go to prison if he failed once to meet the conditions of his probation. Half way through his first semester, Vince wrote a story entitled ‘$treet $mart.’ The S’s in the title were dollar signs. The story, riddled with misspelled words, was a thinly disguised account of Vince’s life. By 7:30 a.m., the main character is buzzed on alcohol, high on weed, and had $4,000 in his pocket from selling drugs. He explains how he circumvents the school security guards. ‘Easy,’ he says. ‘I gave them drugs to look the other way.’

Over several semesters, Vince’s narrative evolved. One semester, he wrote of funerals for kids who were victims of gang warfare and drug running…of friends gunned down in the streets, of his anger and his fear of going to prison. The following semester, Vince wrote rap songs. Still full of the street and its language…still riddled with misspelled words, but their tone…perceptively less final.

By the end of his last semester, Vince’s poetry was almost free of profanity and street talk; in fact, it bordered on hope. ‘They don’t sound like Vince poems,’ a girl remarked; she had been in class with him from the start. ‘Sounds like someone else wrote them.’

And she was right; someone else did.

I believe the Narrative is as essential to human beings as food or shelter or sex. That is has the power to sustain cultures and belief systems. That it has the power to alter individual lives. I witness this power in my creative writing class, in the tenuous efforts students make to articulate their own experience, so they might understand it themselves.

I believe in the human need to participate in the narrative process of telling and listening. How else can individuals like Vince know where they have been or discover where they are going? How else can they fall and then rise?

This I believe.”