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Student helped by readers earns straight A’s

ByrPickett (right) with his mother DebrPickett his mentor Dwayne Bryant December. Byrreceived donations from Chicago Sun-Times readers thhelped him attend

Byron Pickett (right), with his mother, Debra Pickett, and his mentor, Dwayne Bryant, in December. Byron received donations from Chicago Sun-Times readers that helped him to attend Berklee College of Music this year. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:30AM

Stories that come across my desk often suck the joy right out of me.

But every now and then, I run across one that renews my spirit.

The story of Byron Pickett, the young man whom Chicago Sun-Times readers helped send to Berklee College of Music in Boston last fall, is one of those.

The 19-year-old is back home for the summer. He earned all A’s.

“Wow. It was amazing. It was everything I wanted it to be,” he told me. “I met a lot of people and made a bunch of new friends and contacts. I got straight A’s and earned a 3.963 grade point average. I am really happy about that.”

So is his mother.

“I was so very proud that he was able to handle his business. I gave him space to do what he needed to do. His first week, he found a church home, New Hope Baptist Church. They connected with him right away and he was able to begin playing for two of the church choirs. That gave him some kind of employment,” Debra Pickett said.

Every parent who sends a son or daughter off to college wants that child to succeed, and when the student returns to the neighborhood, that parent also worries about him or her being safe.

Parents like Debra know some things are out of their control and put their faith in a higher power.

In fact, “black Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2007.

The survey found that 87 percent of blacks vs. 83 percent of all Americans are affiliated with a religion; and 79 percent of blacks vs. 56 percent overall said religion is “very important in their life.”

As they say, “It works if you work it.”

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Byron has done exceptionally well.

His divorced mother is a devout Christian who initially home-schooled her four sons.

Another son, Nicholas Pickett, 17, graduated from Thornton Fractional South High School last week with a 4.0 grade point average and has earned a full four-year scholarship to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

But at one point, Debra was practically homeless. And until the Chicago Sun-Times readers stepped up to close the gap between Byron’s scholarships and Berklee’s tuition, she didn’t know how she was going to send him to such a prestigious music college.

Additionally, when Byron arrived at Berklee, he had to play some serious catch-up.

“I think my lack of music theory training was the most challenging,” he acknowledged.

Pickett is proud of her son’s transition to college life.

“Not that I didn’t think he could do it, but he was under a lot of pressure: the transition, the high expectations at Berklee and all of the people who supported him,” she said. “He wanted to make sure he didn’t let them down.”

What is often lost in political debates is the plight of real people like Byron.

In this instance, he is the young person President Barack Obama is trying to help with a recently announced Summer Jobs initiative.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration vowed to provide 110,000 new summer jobs, mentorships and internships this year for low-income youths ages 16 to 24.

Although Byron is working with a high school and a junior high marching band and continues to perform with “Phenomenon,” the band he founded with his younger brothers, he also wants to work in a music-production studio before heading back to college.

“I can’t thank readers enough. They can be expecting more work and more music from me and can stay in touch with me on Facebook,” he said.

Meanwhile, those of you who believe in the power of prayer should add Byron to your prayer list.

Unfortunately, before the summer is over, there likely will be plenty of youths to lament.

This is one young man we can continue to lift up.

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