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‘Mr. South Oak Cliff’ Enjoying College But Missing Home

Stella M. Chavez
Jarrell Brown is enjoying his first semester at Howard University in Washington, D.C. But he says he misses his family and Texas-style food.

Jarrell Brown made an impression last month as one of the stars of Student Speak Out: A KERA American Graduate Special. During the hourlong TV show, he and five of his peers asked each other questions and talked about what it takes to graduate from high school.

Last year, Jarrell was senior class president at Dallas’ South Oak Cliff High School. This fall, he just wrapped up his first month at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he’s majoring in biology and ultimately hopes to become a pre-med student. We caught up with him on campus last week. He says it’s going well so far, but he’s starting to feel a little homesick.

“I do miss my family,” he said as he walked toward campus. “It’s a different lifestyle out here. Mainly food. I’m not used to eating what I’m eating.”

He says a few weeks of cafeteria food is starting to get old. So he tries to mix it up by trying out places like Ben’s Chili Bowl, the legendary D.C. eatery where celebs like President Obama and Bill Cosby have dined.

A fellow student walking in front of him overhears Jarrell mention the place, turns around and smiles. It seems that’s where a lot of Howard kids like to go.

But money can be tight for college students, especially in a city like D.C. where the cost of living is much higher than in Texas. As Jarrell puts it, “Prices are off the roof.”

So he spends his free time on things that don’t cost much: swimming, working out, playing basketball video games and going to parties.

What’s he not used to? Walking. Pretty much everywhere he goes.

“I’m from Texas, so I’m not used to walking. I’m used to driving,” he says. “But it’s a good workout for me.”

And then there’s the reaction to his accent.

“To me, I sound like a normal human being, but to everyone else, I sound very country…,” Jarrell says. “They say I have a heavy accent because I’ve lived in Texas my whole life.”

He shrugs and laughs.

“Some people like it, some people don’t. I’m not going to knock them for not liking my accent because it’s who I am. It’s where I’m from. I can’t change that.”

So far, Jarrell says his classes haven’t been too tough. But he expects that to change. In college, he explains, you have to pay attention, listen more carefully, stay focused and not get distracted.

Over the weekend, Jarrell was busy writing a paper for his English Composition class. The question he had to answer: How has having a black president been important to me or America? He could either focus on the pros or cons. He chose to write about what the historic presidency has meant to his grandmother and mom.

“Because they were the ones that never thought this would be possible for them,” he says.

Now, he’s working on a goal that his family at one point thought might not be possible. He gets teary-eyed when he talks about his mom the night that Students Speak Out aired. He was on the on the phone with her, using FaceTime to watch it on her TV.

“She started crying. She’s my mother. She does things like that,” he says. “I was just proud of myself and my family for raising me who I am, and then me doing the things I’m doing – helping my family out by going to college.”

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.