That’s what Vernon Rowe calls them.
Rowe, assistant principal at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis, also calls them on the carpet if they wear hats in the hallways (“We don’t do hats in the school building”), talk impolitely or stop believing in their infinite potential.
“What is wrong with being smart?” Rowe asks Kobe Petrus and Chontavious Vazquez, as they and 15 of their young black peers lean in for Rowe’s mesmerizing discourse during his after-school program, College-Bound Brothers. “Education is the greatest challenge you will ever be a part of.”
Kobe and Chontavious, who both head to Roosevelt High School this fall, hear him loud and clear. For the past year, the eighth-graders have playfully competed for prizes doled out by Rowe for academic excellence.
Kobe didn’t fret when Chontavious bested him the first quarter. “I’m going to beat you next time,” Kobe said. He did, which was fine with Chontavious, a friend and a fan.
“Kobe is a cool person. He knows when it’s play time and when it’s time-to-work time. I look up to him, believe it or not.”
Now it’s Kobe’s turn.
“OK,” Kobe says. “He’s tall.” Chontavious laughs. “He’s a hard worker. He gets good grades. He’s funny, cool to hang out with. How do you say it? He’s an extra…?” Chontavious is an extrovert.
“He will excel in math,” Kobe adds. “I could see him going to the University of Minnesota.”
The U is, in fact, on Chontavious’ dream list. But the wide receiver also is looking at the University of Oregon (“Mighty Ducks!”) and Georgia State. He’ll be the first in his family to go to college.
Kobe is thinking about the U, too, to study technology. “My friends don’t really talk about college that much,” Kobe says. “I’m not 100 percent sure they plan to go. It does worry me a little. If you don’t go, you won’t get a good-paying job.”
Chontavious, possibly a future firefighter, nods. “They dream of becoming a basketball player. That’s OK, but you should have a backup plan.”
Kobe will visit family in Phoenix this summer. Chontavious will work on high school credits and go to New York City. “Cool,” Kobe says. Then, back to the books for these two.
“Like Mr. Rowe said, our grades are good and he wants us to become role models,” Chontavious says.
Adds Kobe: “I want to be a student who brings other students up.” □