story by Natalie Taylor
Four high-school freshmen boys stand shoulder to shoulder at the 50-yard line of a Kentucky high school football field, holding hands. They are the captains of the Henderson County High School Freshmen Football team, and among them is 14 year-old Mohamed Jennette.
By all accounts, Mohamed is a good kid. He dedicates himself to the rigorous demands of his football team and impresses his teachers as a quiet kid who “gets it done.” He is also an active member of the First United Methodist Church.
Mohamed has three little sisters, and they are being raised by their single mother, Angelyn Gumbs. She suffers from epilepsy and can’t drive or work because of her disability. Although Mohamed has a deeply felt social relationship with his mother, she and his church community saw a need for a male role model in his life as Mohamed outgrew childhood and was starting to show signs of excess anger in school.
Mohamed was eventually matched with Frank Tulipana to become the first pairing in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Henderson County. They’ve been together for a year and a half, and until Mohamed got involved with football, the pair would spend practically every day together. They brought Mohamed and his sisters’ bikes to Frank’s house where they fixed all four, learning to take care of things. They helped an elderly woman pack up her house, learning that whatever position you’re in, there is always a way to give back. One of the most lasting lessons Mohamed has absorbed from his role models is that being a man “doesn’t mean you have to be a tough guy.”
As Mohamed branches out in school and with friends, it will eventually be up to him to continue making good decisions. Mohamed is at a crucial age where tiny interference either way could mean a huge difference in the trajectory of his life.
According to Frank, Mohamed is a “diamond in the rough” with huge potential. But Mohamed takes responsibility for himself and his future. He agrees that it is ultimately up to him to be successful, “I’m on the right track," he says, "because of my choices.”