For the Love Of Ballou

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006

Someone had taken Jachin Leatherman's super-sized calculator, the one he used for AP calculus, and Jachin wanted it back.

In the middle of a sunny winter morning, he chased a classmate down a hallway where, 2 1/2 years ago, some students had scattered droplets of mercury, shutting down Ballou Senior High School for a month.

They raced past another hallway where, in the midst of a school day, a football teammate of Jachin's had been shot and killed.

They went down a stairwell where the everyday echoes include the laughter of another teammate -- a beloved friend -- who had left school one day and was found beaten to death in his home.

Sometimes at Ballou, days can seem tinged with every headline and grim event that has given it a reputation as one of Washington's worst and most dangerous high schools.

But on other days, it's simply a place where a thief turns out to be a giggling girl who has swiped a calculator as a way to flirt with a boy. And a boy who smiles back when he grabs the calculator out of her hand and then saunters off to class joking about the incident with his best friend.

Eighteen days ago, Jachin Leatherman, 18, graduated from Ballou. He was the school's 2006 valedictorian.

His best friend, 18-year-old Wayne Nesbit, also graduated. He was salutatorian.

Jachin and Wayne: They love Ballou.

Four years before, at the end of middle school, both had scholarship offers to an elite private high school in the Maryland suburbs. It was an offer that few from Southeast Washington, where Ballou is located, would refuse.

But both ended up at Ballou because their fathers decided that an all-black inner-city school, rather than a mostly white suburban school, was what they wanted for their sons. They also figured their high-achieving sons were precisely the kind of examples Ballou needed.

It was a decision that both boys agreed with, making a private pact with each other that by the time they graduated from high school, they would have made Ballou a better place to be young, black and male.

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