George Swiney’s parents were elated at the idea that their son would go to college.
When Abe Pollin and Melvin Cohen made the offer of the scholarships at Seat Pleasant Elementary, George’s dad showed up in his Lorton prison guard uniform and told a reporter that he had always wondered how he would pay for his son to get a proper education.
George was a bright boy with a strong interest in science and computers. But he was also street smart. As a kid, he once saw a man stab another with a meat hook, and he saw a gang beat a homeless man. George didn’t shy away from fights on the playground.
By the end of 10th grade, his parents decided to move from Prince George’s County to Montgomery County because they feared for their son’s safety. George enrolled at Paint Branch High School, where he pursued his interest in computers.
After graduation, he went to Montgomery College, but he felt the courses weren’t useful to him; he already knew what he wanted. His father was furious when he told him he wanted to drop out and get a job in IT.
“You’re blowing a great opportunity,” George remembers his father telling him.
George responded with a rhetorical question, an answer, and another question: “What is the point of going? To get a good job. What if I can do this without college?”
George now works as a network engineer. Sometimes, he thinks he should have stuck with college, but he feels that he has done well for himself. Thinking back on his years as a member of the Seat Pleasant 59, he says, “If the goal was for all of us to finish college, then we failed.”
But no one should forget what they were exposed to, Swiney says, whether it was lunch with Abe Pollin or the knowledge that college was possible.
“If the goal was to take these children who didn’t have a lot, give them exposure, give them options so we’re not making another generation of jail bait, then it was a success,” he says.
“There aren’t too many of us who could say we weren’t better off.”