Thanks to this "really good support system . . . I knew I would graduate high school and start [college]," she says. As for abortion, "a couple of friends had had these back-alley things. It never, ever crossed my mind."
Somehow, she recalls, "I grew some strength. Because I wasn't particularly strong before."
Almost nothing happened as Cheryl's schoolmates assumed it would. My high school principal allowed Cheryl, a fine student whose pregnancy barely showed, to stay in school through Christmas. After the holiday, she was home-tutored while awaiting her baby's birth.
Today, her son, Dwayne Kendrick, 35, is a Los Angeles sound engineer. Cheryl -- a former 20th Century Fox executive who owns a corporate training and development company whose clients have included the Los Angeles Dodgers -- recalls her difficulty finishing high school. Later, her infant sometimes in tow, she attended Purdue University, from which she received two degrees.
Cheryl never wed Dwayne's father. "Even then, I realized I could do better on my own," she says. A 1979 marriage resulted in a second son, James, 25, a veterinary student. Divorced in 1986, she's been happily remarried for 14 years. "I now know what love is," Cheryl says.
Barrino's song, Cheryl says, is "cute," adding that "it's about time we had something addressing the fact that people who have children young and out of wedlock can do this."
At the same time, "I am absolutely not encouraging [the teenage-mother] trend," she insists. "Unwed motherhood is so tough, even with resources. Being one without them is just horrible." She says her work with teenagers taught her that despite easy-to-get birth-control information, "girls still think, 'It won't happen to me this once.' " A devout Christian, Cheryl says she can't judge unwed moms because "our Lord is a forgiving God." She would hate for any pregnant teenager to find "not only that her family had turned their backs on her, but the church, too. . . ."
"If I'd faced that, I don't know what would have happened."
The girl who had everything, it seems, still does. Cheryl defied the statistics, which are, after all, just numbers. It's people who matter most -- people whose voices, characters and souls can help them transcend everything that numbers would suggest.
Statistics can be instructive. They also can push people into categories that -- whether they're ethnic, religious, sexual or about marital status -- can terrify and anger us.
Real people are frustrating, too. They're also confounding, inspiring and instructive.
Decades ago, Cheryl taught me that no human being is uncomplicated. She's still doing it.
"I probably am an aberration," she admits. "My pregnancy and child ended up being a catapult, a great part of my success. Would it have been much better if I'd married first? Absolutely. It's every little girl's dream. . . .
"It just didn't happen for me."