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17 Chapter 2 |  “More People That Have Stuff to Live For Here”: Neighborhood Change and Intergenerational Attainment At ten years old, Dana Jenkins had a lot of things on her mind. In search of an outlet, Dana’s TV Show was born, shot in her bedroom using an old video camera of her dad’s. On that VHS cassette, Dana recorded her innermost thoughts, read new poems she had written, and talked freely about her up-­ and-­ down relationship with her father, an addict who was in and out of jail. Often she added an element of show-­ and-­ tell, featuring favorite toys. Sometimes she talked about boys—mostly how she found them disgusting. She added new episodes to the tape throughout middle school. Even now, when Dana and her mom, Lisa, need a laugh, they pop that tape into their old VCR, exclaiming, “Remember when . . .?” In the eighth grade, the budding poet’s classmates chose her to represent the school in a citywide dramatic poetry contest. She competed, but could not find the courage to be as open and expressive as she was in the privacy of her bedroom filming Dana’s TV Show. Self-­ conscious about the baby fat she still carried, it took all of middle school for Dana to come out of her shell. Her English teacher, Ms. Austin, celebrated Dana as “an excellent writer” who was extremely motivated and “an important part of the learning process of the classroom.” Despite Dana’s shyness and “laid-­ back manner”—or maybe because of it—Ms. Austin was overjoyed to see Dana blossom into a social “go-­ between,” ably straddling the dividing line between the “rambunctious” troublemakers and the more mild-­ mannered “nerds,” while maintaining friendships with kids from both groups. Dana’s literary promise and “mathematical brain,” as her mom liked to call it, earned Dana entrance into one of the best high schools in Baltimore 18      Coming of Age in the Other America City, where she took up the saxophone and argued for the school debate team. For her, Claremont High was a place where you could “express yourself [and] find out who you really are.” She even joined the marching band, until taunts from peers, who thought band members were losers, pushed her to quit. Like many American teens, Dana worked to juggle her burgeoning popularity alongside her academic goals. Then, at fourteen, Dana found herself helping to care for a half-­ sister who was dying of AIDS. The experience proved to be both devastating and inspiring, prompting Dana to realize one day, midvisit, “Wow, I actually think this is something that I could do.” The tragedy of her sister’s death sparked the motivation for Dana’s life’s work: to be a registered nurse. Her teachers and parents—and even Dana—expected her to go on to a four-­ year college after graduation. But when the time came to apply, the prospect of investing four more years of her time in school seemed less appealing than the chance to put her skills to use sooner and gain practical experience in the work world. Dana reasoned that training as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) was a first step toward her dream. With the support of her mom, who paid the $700 tuition, Dana completed her training through a program offered by the American Red Cross. Right away, she got a job and began caring for patients, just as she’d hoped. Two years later, however, the shortcomings of her approach had become apparent. “[I’m tired of] wiping butts all day,” Dana said. “I can’t do this for the rest of my life!” Perhaps the way forward, she thought, was to diversify her professional skills. So, at twenty, she enrolled in a program that would certify her to draw blood—a trade called phlebotomy. Halfway into the program she learned she was pregnant. Nauseated much of the time, drawing blood day in and day out didn’t seem so appealing to Dana anymore. While plotting her next move, Dana worked retail— Lowe’s, TJ Maxx, The Gap—and even did a stint as a field interviewer for the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, Dana and interviewer Eva Rosen talked for more than three hours; her toddler intermittently sat on her lap, fidgeted, pulled at her hair, climbed all over her, then fell fast asleep in her arms before waking up and playing some more. All the while Dana barely moved, patiently telling...


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