Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son by Kevin Jennings

This is a heartrending but ultimately feel good memoir of growing up in poverty in Forsyth County.  One of the most outspoken advocates for changes in school policies concerning gay and lesbian students, Jennings came from dirt poor circumstances to later graduate from Harvard, become a teacher par excellence, and lay the groundwork for GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network). 

Mamas_boyJennings’ early childhood was itinerant to say the least – his dad was a sometime Southern Baptist preacher who moved his family often.  After his father died young from a heart attack, the family remained in Lewisville, NC, and his mom worked her way up to become the first female manager of a McDonald’s in Winston-Salem.  Her dogged work ethic and stubbornness made their mark on her youngest child as he struggled with his sexuality during a miserable set of school years. 

Jennings later shone in high school and college, and afterwards established a fine teaching reputation in New England.  It was during his hitches at Moses Brown and Concord Academy that he noticed the genuine need for gay/lesbian students to have a voice against harassment in school.  Being well liked by his students didn’t hurt, and his spokesmanship with what later became GLSEN put the message out nationwide.

It’s great to see a local son be a major catalyst for social awareness, and as always, inspiring to read about somebody getting past a rough childhood and breaking bad patterns in the process. 

Further reading for the curious:

When The Drama Club Is Not Enough by Jeff Perrotti

Becoming Visible:  A Reader in Gay & Lesbian History for High School and College Students ed. by Kevin Jennings 

School Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Youth:  The Invisible Minority ed. by Mary B. Harris

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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