Pregnant and frightened at age 15, Bayza Weeks was told that her school, DeLaSalle High, believed in her. She did the rest.
Two pregnancy tests, two negatives.
But the ultrasound confirmed Bayza Weeks had more than knots in her stomach.
She sat outside the principal's office at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, embarrassed and alone on a cold day in what had been, for most of her life, a cold world. She shook and cried.
A diligent student, she played first chair clarinet and sang in the a cappella choir.
Several months pregnant at age 15, she faced a dilemma. Abort the child, leave school, or maybe both.
Her father's words had been harsh: Keep the child, ruin your life.
The principal took a deep breath. Pregnancies were rare at the Catholic school. He spoke: We believe in life. We believe in education.
She heard something different: We believe in you.
The words would bind her closer to DeLaSalle than either of them could have imagined.
Months later, the principal stood at the hospital, cradling the 7-pound, 13-ounce boy, joking that the school colors ran through his veins.
Fifteen years later, Barry Lieske is still the principal. Last week, he and the boy shook hands.
The child is now a freshman at the school where the principal spoke, where his mother cried, where she chose him.
"This will really give him an opportunity to be a young person," his mother says. "I know I missed that."
To clothe and feed her baby, Weeks struggled and relied on the kindness of others. Her parents no longer paid tuition.
She pleaded her case, told DeLaSalle she was worth the investment. They listened. She stayed.
After graduation, she moved out on her own. Her oldest brother moved in a year later. As time passed, the other siblings followed. She birthed one child, but became a surrogate to five others, raising them while earning bachelor's and master's degrees.
With help from her oldest brother, she cobbled together enough money to send the three youngest through DeLaSalle. One sister had a child while enrolled at DeLaSalle. So, Weeks became Aunt Bayza.
A former teacher heard about part-time work at the school, answering phones and filing papers, and called her up. She took the job. The staff discount helped with the tuition bills. Soon she took on more responsibility as manager of the guidance office.
A year later, she and nine others applied for the position of dean of students, a job the principal once held.
Less than three hours after her interview, he called her into his office. She prepared for bad news.
You're hired, he told her.
Outside her office, above the row of lockers, the Class of '98 photo hangs. Her picture and name are listed last, in the lower right hand corner.
With all the problems that arose, she almost didn't make it. Her son won't have the same problem. She vows that.
On the first day of school, she cracked open his bedroom door at 5:30 and flicked on the lights, rousing him from bed.
The boy is 6 feet 1 now. He's Darryl Atkins Jr. He stresses the "junior" to distinguish himself.
Since his fourth birthday, son and father have seen each other twice, his mother recalls. A couple of years back, Senior passed along his phone number.
The son didn't recognize him. The son never called. He is his own man.
An honor student in middle school, he plays drums in church and is a safety on the freshman football team.
Throughout elementary school, he told teachers, with confidence: I know how to do homework, my mom's in school, too.
By fifth grade, he says, he outgrew her. She debates that.
She's a parent from the old school, their pastors said, a mother to her son, not a friend.
She expects excellence. From last year's DeLaSalle graduates, black males went to Harvard, Georgetown and West Point. She thinks: Why not my son?
Before freshman orientation, he fussed with his uniform and shoes for more than an hour.
His mother is the dean, the woman who enforces the uniform policy. He has to practice what she preaches.
He draws looks from female classmates. His mom is not worried. She is the dean, she jokes, the woman who hands out detentions.
Before they left Monday, she pulled out a box of old photos as he curled up on the couch.
There he is in kindergarten, posing with teachers; on Christmas morning, unwrapping gifts; and minutes after birth, wrapped in a pastel green blanket.
She heard his cry that day. Then she cried, too.
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491