The story of Jamal Speaks has, by now, been well publicized, and happily it has ended well. The 18-year-old is a talented running back who played for Ballou High School during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was removed from the team after he was (it appears legitimately) ruled ineligible to attend school in the District. His father had died, and his mother was living in Maryland. He had a tough time, and the next school year, he declared he was not living with his mother and he was homeless. He wanted to return to Ballou and was allowed to enroll in the third quarter of his junior year in the school’s STAY Opportunity Academy.
He rejoined the football team, but when he tried to take the field last month, he was told he couldn’t play because of questions about his residency. He didn’t have an address because he was homeless, sleeping on couches at various friends’ homes. He had waited nearly two years to play and had filled out what he was told was all the necessary paperwork. College coaches were in the stands to see what he could do. After a public outcry and a protest by his teammates, the intervention of a D.C. Council member and numerous news stories pointing out the foolishness of the situation, Mr. Speaks played in Ballou’s 29-26 victory over Theodore Roosevelt High School late last month, scoring Ballou’s first touchdown and making a pivotal catch in the game’s final dramatic moments. Temple University has offered him a scholarship.
Good for this young man who has had to contend with enormous challenges, and who says he is committed to showing that a young black man can come out of Southeast and succeed. “If I can do it, you can do it,” he
But let’s hope the school system takes a breath and tries to make sure that other innocent
aren’t caught in the net of its residency rules enforcement.