When Jessie E. Kilgore, Jr. talks about Detroit youth, he locks your eyes and flashes an electric smile. The former athletic director, teacher, principal and superintendent’s infectious personality is necessary to get others on his side to help Detroit’s children.
As director of the Good Schools Resource Center-Detroit, Kilgore has his hands-on Detroit’s education scene, working to build intensive support structures for teachers, students and administrators in schools within the Good Neighborhoods.
“I’m excited about the future,” Kilgore said. “There is not often this kind of support for schools. We are going to turn the tide with the work we are doing.”
Changing Detroit’s education model is a monumental task, but Kilgore is undeterred. He is a lifelong Detroiter and a product of Detroit Public Schools. He watched his childhood friends end up in gangs, hooked on drugs and without guidance. He spent his teenage years going to funerals and now feels no one should have to go through that.
“It saddens me,” Kilgore said. “So many of them had so much promise, so much potential had they just been channeled in the right way.”
Do you consider yourself a champion for Detroit kids?
Jessie: I do. A champion is one that carries the torch for a cause, and I feel I’m that torchbearer for our kids and our neighborhoods. There are many torchbearers in this city, many who never get their names in the paper. But there are many out there who are doing the good work, that hard work.
How would you sum up childhood in Detroit in one word?
Jessie: Challenging. Our students and our kids have so many things coming at them at once. One of the things that they have that we didn’t have is this whole technology thing. You have Facebook and texting, all the bullying that happens on the internet and in the electronic domain. It’s disheartening to me.
Tell me about a time you had an encounter with a child through your work that left you angry.
Jessie: There was one particular student that I spent years working with. He had a lot of family issues, the father out of the home. I pulled this kid under my wing and did everything I possibly could to get him on the right track. He moved on and went to high school and I found out that he had been in a robbery and had gotten locked up. Finding out totally deflated me; I said, ‘Oh my God, what did I miss?’ I took it personally. What did I not say? What did I not do that led to this? That’s how personal this gets for me. It hit me deep in my gut when it happened. I was down and out for a while. I still think about him, and I should keep thinking about him. I don’t ever want to get to a point where I say … ‘Oh well, I lost that one.’ That kid is going to come along again