FCPS Alum Shares Life Advice at Crawford
Lexington native Jenisha Watts has come a long way, and she wants local young people to know that they, too, can overcome obstacles to make the most of their lives. Watts spoke to students at Crawford Middle School this week about her journey from a hardscrabble childhood in Charlotte Court to New York, where she is now a senior editor for The Atlantic. She confirmed that education pulled her out of a bleak, fractured existence. “Through perseverance and through books, I was able to transcend those circumstances,” said the University of Kentucky graduate. “You can make something of your life,” she reminded the Crawford students.
Several reading classes attended the afternoon assembly, along with a few cinematography students from Frederick Douglass High School and journalism students from Henry Clay High School. Crawford teacher Joshua Collins, who has a mutual connection in New York, called Watts “a living testament to success.” “Here’s proof of somebody who could have been a statistic – now at the apex of her field,” he said after the Q&A session. People should not make snap judgments based on a person’s environment or background, according to Collins. “The possibility is always there for all kids,” he said.
The Atlantic recently featured Watts in a cover story about how she made peace with her past. Through a chaotic childhood, Watts attended Booker T. Washington, Garden Springs, and Mary Todd elementaries, Bryan Station Middle, and Bryan Station High School. She also recalled spending nights in the Salvation Army’s family shelter. “It was hard to believe in myself when you had a background like mine,” she told the Crawford crowd, “but at all those schools, I had a mentor who poured into me.”
As a teenager, Watts decided to “break the generational curse.” She started collecting quotes and favorite books to feed her mind with positivity. She also drew inspiration from reading other people’s stories and learning about their lives. “The Color of Water" by James McBride was key to her finding a path out and changing the trajectory of her life. “I feel proud I didn’t allow my circumstances to slow me down,” Watts said, adding, “You have to let stuff go and forgive.”
Watts encouraged the Crawford students to find characters in books they can relate to, seek out role models in the community, and embrace mentors at school. Read more, be curious, listen, observe. “It’s important to have confidence in yourself because the world is really hard,” she said. “Put in the work!” Watts also urged the students to lean on their community and teachers who want them to succeed, and she stressed the importance of critical thinking and believing in oneself. “You have to work hard and be committed,” she said.