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For 36 Wilson County Schools students, a visit to Duke University opened minds, widened perspectives and hatched dreams.
Students from Wells and Winstead elementary schools, Toisnot Middle School and Hunt and Fike high schools visited the campus on Nov. 30 as part of The Gentlemen’s Agreement program.
Maurice Barnes, The Gentlemen’s Agreement coordinator for Wilson County Schools, said Fike graduate Ra’quan Boyette facilitated the trip.
Boyette, a former Demon Deacon football player who is now is a coach at the university, acquired tickets for the students to see a Duke-Miami football game and organized a tour of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
For Amarion Spells, a fourth grader from Winstead Elementary School, seeing NBA rookie Zion Williamson’s Duke jersey was a highlight of the trip.
“It had his name on it,” Spells said. “It felt good. I loved when he used to dunk.”
Williams, now a forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, is just a few years older than the young men on the tour.
“Zion Williamson is their contemporary, so they wanted to see his jersey,” Barnes said.
Tyrus Darden, Gentlemen’s Agreement liaison at Winstead, said the school’s 13 program participants benefited from the trip.
“A lot of the children in this neighborhood don’t get a chance to see outside of Wilson,” Darden said. “They don’t get a chance to see the possibilities of what they can become, so I believe the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the things that they are exposed to because of the Gentlemen’s Agreement takes the cap off the limits of these children’s minds.”
Seeing Boyette, a Wilson native, gave the students a sense that they can achieve like Boyette.
Zaelyn Hinnant, a seventh grader at Toisnot Middle School, said the trip showed him how to be a better gentleman and how to have fun at the same time.
“It felt good. I saw that I should push myself more to become better in life,” Hinnant said.
Hinnant said seeing Williamson’s jersey made him want to be just like Williamson.
“Taking trips like this expands their consciousness of the world around them,”said Toisnot program liaison Maurece Lewis. “I just think it is extremely important. There aren’t many people directing them and inspiring them to do this beyond the school system. If they get to go to a college, then it might actually make them want to do better in school to get there. It will help them in their future.”
Hinnant said after the trip, he’s already been focusing more on schoolwork so he’ll be able to go to college.
“If I want to follow my dream, I have to do better in school,” Hinnant said.
“A lot of times they don’t have anyone telling them the work that it takes to get to the goal. They just have the goal.” Lewis said. “Something like this gives them inspiration. ‘I see the school. I see the trophies. I see all of this. What do I have to do to get there?’”
Keejahri Farmer, a Fike High sophomore, said the Duke trip was inspirational because he saw people who started out just like him.
“We can do exactly what they did if we just get good grades and stick to what we want to do,” Farmer said. “It showed me that I can do more with my life and that you can take your life farther than you think you can. It shows us what we can actually do in life if we just stay positive.”
Coach Henry Williams, the Fike liaison for the Gentlemen’s Agreement program, said the trip was a wonderful experience for students.
“I think it opened some eyes and gave some hope that one day they can have that college experience,” Williams said. “It opens up their mind and their ideas up to what they can become. You don’t have to just dream about it. You can put your dreams into actions and work toward it now. The most important thing about the Gentlemen’s Agreement is taking young African American men and letting them know that they are somebody and that they can become anybody.”