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Young, Successful And City Bred

COMMENTARY by Stan Simpson
September 10, 2005

Corey J. Brinson devoured the grilled swordfish at the Hartford eatery; he was equally emphatic in talking about the role his city high school played in landing him a job at the state's largest law firm.

"I probably would not be at Day Berry & Howard if I didn't go to Hartford Public," said Brinson, who started at the firm this month. And he didn't even choke on that statement, which some would find improbable.

Friday, Dr. Johvonne Claybourne picked at her omelet in a West Hartford diner. Her husband, John, kept an eye on their 18-month-old daughter Layla.

Also reared in Hartford, Claybourne talked about her reluctance to attend Kingswood-Oxford in West Hartford. But the prestigious private school prepped her for college and made for a smooth transition to the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Stratford, N.J.

Claybourne, after finishing her residency at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in August, became the first family doctor at the Community Health Center in Hartford. CHC serves the same North Hartford neighborhoods where Brinson and Claybourne grew up.

Claybourne and Brinson represent two stories of Hartford-bred youths that we don't hear often enough. They don't fit the conventional notion of wayward gang-bangin', stick-up kids, dealing dope or dropping out of school. They are among the many city students who've applied themselves academically, gotten exposed to worlds previously believed out of their reach and, through perseverance and encouragement, are accomplishing their goals.

A doctor and a lawyer, each under 30 and raised in a single-parent home in the city, have returned. Both feel an obligation to serve their community.

"When I talk to high school kids, I let them know where I came from," said Brinson, 25. "I let them know that despite your background and circumstances, if you dream big and you work hard, you can succeed and do really well."

Brinson went to St. Bridgid's, a parochial school in West Hartford, from grades K-8. He had his choice of high schools - private or public. His mother, Brenda, a claims examiner, didn't earn much. But what she could scrape together was put toward her two children's educations.

"I wanted to go to Hartford Public for several reasons," said Brinson, who still carries the stocky build of a high school wrestler. "I never had a public school experience. I didn't know any kids in my neighborhood. And I felt there was an education that I could get out of Hartford Public, a life lesson that I could learn. It was one of the best decisions I ever made."

An honors student, he served a summer internship his junior year at the law firm. There, he was given an office and a computer and was allowed to shadow college law associates. He also attended posh parties at partners' homes and dined at the city's finest restaurants.

"It gave me motivation to say I'll do whatever it takes to get back there. I was going to work my butt off in college," said Brinson, who graduated from the University of Connecticut law school this year.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed and Class Politician by his high school peers in 1998, this nephew of city Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson lives in Hartford. He plans one day to run for local office.

Claybourne, 29, is raising a family. She and her husband recently moved from Woodland Street in Hartford to a home in West Hartford.

After attending a Catholic school in her early years, Claybourne attended Annie Fisher Elementary School in grades 4-6. A standout student, she was given an opportunity to attend Kingswood Oxford. Her mom, Yvonne, was ecstatic. Claybourne was not so sure.

Unlike Brinson, who attended mostly white schools and wanted a more diverse city experience, Claybourne, a brown-skinned women who fashions her hair in braids and a scarf, grew up interacting with an ethnic mix of kids. She was leery about signing up for the homogenous KO.

"These were kids who had a lot of money, compared to some of us from single-parent homes," Claybourne recalled. "It was very difficult to be the only black person in class. I never had that experience going to public school in Hartford. So, it took a lot of getting used to."

What was also different was the attitude of most of the KO students. "It was the first time it was really cool to be smart," Claybourne said. "There was peer pressure to work hard, which was different for me when I was at public school."

These days, it's routine for at least one of her patients, who are mostly poor and black, to tell Claybourne that they're proud of her - and that they're praying for her.

"I never had a black doctor, and the fact that I can be that for somebody is so cool," she said.

All right, so, maybe we ought to re-examine this debate about the merits of private schools vs. the publics.

"Hartford Public taught me that a lot of education doesn't have so much to do with the school, but your family and your personal ambition and personal motivation," said Brinson.

When you've got self-starters like Claybourne and Brinson, it really doesn't matter where you send them.

Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at ssimpson@courant.com

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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