Linda Jordan is easy to spot in the hallways at Mission High School in San Francisco. She’s tall with long black dreadlocks and tows along her little black dog, Mr. Socks, almost everywhere she goes.
Together they greet students outside her office every day between classes.
Jordan is a big presence on campus and a big presence in the lives of these young people because she is determined to help them graduate and move on to college.
“I tell the students when they come in, ‘I’m never going to disrespect you. I’m always going to be real with you. You may not like it, but I have to tell you. Otherwise, I’m not being the best I can be for you,’ ” says Jordan.
Jordan’s official title is African-American community liaison, but she’s more like a social worker and college counselor for the school’s black students.
Mission High created her position five years ago after being classified as a low-performing school for many years.
Assistant Principal Laura Parker says Jordan is playing a key role in helping turn the school around. Last year, Mission graduated the highest percentage of African-Americans in the San Francisco Unified School District.
“Often students who have been underserved by the education system … they hold themselves back because they’re not used to accessing the same [opportunities] that other students are getting,” says Parker.
Jordan opens those doors for kids by connecting them with mentors and inviting college recruiters on campus. But students say the most important thing Jordan does is simply listen.
Jordan says she’s just trying to “pay it forward” because she had strong leaders in her life.
“I’m standing on some really broad shoulders,” she says. “I’m replicating what someone else already did with me beforehand and has done with others. So I don’t take a lot of credit for that. I’ve been blessed to connect with the students that I do.”
One of the students this year is 17-year-old Jennifer Disovah Wilson, who has completed her education despite a life full of setbacks.
Wilson’s mother was addicted to drugs. Her father died when she was just 3. A relative raised her but was physically and verbally abusive, Wilson says.
So in middle school, she ran away.
“When I was getting abused … I was told to act like nothing is the problem,” says Wilson. “I hated that. Now, I feel like I shouldn’t have to talk about … because I’m trying to better myself.”
Jordan reminds Wilson that she does not have a “magic wand” and she can’t “turn back the clock.” She constantly encourages her to “grab her future and move forward.”
Jordan says students like Wilson drive her to do the work she does. The one-on-one conversations help to keep Wilson focused on her studies, which has been especially important her senior year.
She has been accepted to Wiley College, a historically black college in Texas. She also recently reunited with her biological mother, who is now clean and sober.
They’re living together for the first time, but one complication is that Wilson’s mother is HIV-positive.
Wilson now has to make the tough decision of either going away for college or staying home to help her sick mother.
“You can see the change in her face, in her body,” says Wilson. “It’s hard to cope because, if she was to pass, I would like to be here to have those days with her. It’s only been a year that I’ve been with her.”
Jordan sympathizes, but has been gently guiding Wilson to seize this academic opportunity.
“She has to put herself first in order for this to start working for her,” says Jordan. “If you don’t grab an opportunity when it’s present, it might not come back around.”
Wilson still isn’t sure what she’s going to do but continues to put her best foot forward — collecting her transcripts, attending awards ceremonies and end-of-school-year functions.
On Wednesday, Jennifer Disovah Wilson graduated from Mission High School.