Cody High School is on Detroit’s west side, in a neighborhood that struggles with blight, drugs and gangs.
As Cody football coach Jimmie Knight says, "everybody wants to be out the neighborhood ... but more people still stuck here than ever."
So how do you get out? Well, first you have to graduate high school. For students who are on the brink, that’s where Knight comes in. He grew up in the Cody neighborhood, and moved back several years ago to help kids from the neighborhood graduate and find a way out.
"I'm not a counselor," says Knight, "but I got a genuine heart. That's all I preach. Just listen to me, let me tell you what's expected out of you, you get that and then you move on."
Knight works with Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention organization; his job is to make sure students have what they need in order to succeed in school and graduate. He's happy to help any student at Cody who seeks him out, but he also has 45 students on his caseload he works with intensely all four years of high school. He tracks their grades, their attendance, and the number of write-ups and suspensions they get (and he tends to work with students who have a lot of writes-ups and suspensions.)
Dontay, a junior at Cody, says without Coach Knight he "probably wouldn't even be in school, period. I'd probably be somewhere in the streets."
Barbara, a junior, says Coach Knight seeks her out every day to make sure she has a smile on her face. "If ain't nobody come to me trying to be like Knight was, then it'd be like, I just be here to do what I got to do and go home."
Now, to be fair, there are dozens of adults in the school that Barbara could’ve talked to. But like so many other students at Cody, she chose Knight.
He looks like a hip professor with his salt and pepper beard and black-frame glasses. But that’s not why she chose him. Here are the three of the most common answers students give when they're asked why they chose Knight:
He listens. He respects me. He understands what I’m going through.
And he really does.
Coach Knight grew up in the very same neighborhood these kids live in. He even went to Cody, graduated in 1981. He's walked these streets, he's walked these halls, he knows what life is like for these students.
So that’s why he decided to come back to Cody High School. He wanted to try to help kids in the neighborhood graduate, and find a way out.
Multimedia support for this project was provided by The Equity Reporting Project: Restoring the Promise of Education, which was developed by Renaissance Journalism with funding from the Ford Foundation.