Multicultural ETSU students share life experiences during Lincoln Elementary visit

KINGSPORT — Students at Lincoln Elementary School Friday got a glimpse of a potential future in college through a visit from East Tennessee State University’s Gospel Choir, part of an ETSU Office of Multicultural Affairs program.

Lincoln’s daylong event, which all 411 pre-K through fifth grade students attended, gave the students a glimpse into the educational and life journeys of the choir members, most of whom are African American.

Principal Suzanne Zahner and Associate Principal Leigh Anne Sheppard said that the program is all about creating a vision and honoring students’ dreams to attend college.

Choir member Jimmy Young, a music major, asked students if they were eager and planning to go to college, and some answered no. He said he would have been among that group at their age.

“As long as you have a plan, it will be OK,” said Young, who produces fashion shows at ETSU along with pursuing music. “I knew growing up I’m a singer,” Young said. He said students should do their best to have belief in themselves.

Laura Terry, who oversees the multicultural program, said the presentations at Lincoln followed a morning program recently at Johnson City’s Indian Trail Intermediate School. 

“It’s been awesome and helps my students, too,” Terry said. “We go to wherever we need to to touch people.”

First-graders shared with Young a wide range of career plans, including two who wanted to be clay artists, as well as a fireman, three veterinarians, a professional football player, four police officers, a teacher, a singer who retires to become a scientist, a scientist, a chemical engineer, a drummer, two doctors, an artist and an agent who retires to become a dentist.

Fellow choir member Bradlee Ferguson, an Elizabethton native from a single-parent household, said he went to church his whole life, was part of a larger family and knows singing “keeps me level and grounded.” He was a psychology major and plans to return to school next year.

“When no one loves you, your cat will,” he said.

He plans to live in New York City and become famous.

Hannah Brooks, a journalism major, said she plans to be a traveling journalist but put her minor in Japanese to work by teaching English in Japan first.

Alex Jatto, the group’s drummer who is majoring in psychology and is in ETSU’s ROTC program, also spoke to the students.

Young said he started out wanting to be a vet because he loves snakes, even though one once urinated on him, and at the start of college wanted to be a nurse, but found that was not for him before deciding on music. Raised by a single mother and grandparents, he has three stepsiblings. He also works in visual merchandising for clothing retailer Forever 21 in Johnson City and sets up mannequins.

 “It is easy but it’s so hard at the same time,” Young said. 

“Kids need to hear from not necessarily us old people but kids who are going through it,” Zahner said.

“Leigh Anne and I have been working very hard for people from ETSU to get individuals in our building” so elementary students can see college students with similar backgrounds and life experience, Zahner said.