New Youngstown City Schools CEO reflects on his challenging road to success

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An accident ended his basketball career

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The new CEO of Youngstown City Schools settle into the position on Thursday, but he has overcome a lot of challenges to get here.

“We moved into a neighborhood, middle class neighborhood. We were the first African American family in that neighborhood,” said Youngstown City Schools CEO Justin Jennings.

Jennings was one of four kids. His mother was a proof teller at a bank and his father was a factory worker.

It was not until Jennings was about 14 years old that his life took a major turn.

“My dad got into a serious accident. He couldn’t work anymore,” he said.

A large amount of skin and muscle ripped off of his arm from a machine that would cut boxes. Jennings’ mother had to take care of his father and the four kids, so she had to leave her job.

“We went from a middle-class family, middle-class neighborhood to losing our house and moving into a two-bedroom apartment for six people,” Jennings said. “It was a difficult time, but I always tell people, at that time, I didn’t realize how poor I was until I actually got to college because there was always love in the house.”

Basketball kept Jennings so busy that he didn’t think too hard about the life transition. He was offered a full scholarship from Purdue.

When there were home games, his parents made the drive to West Lafayette.

“My mom and dad, one of the things about them, they never missed a home game,” he said.

In his freshman year, Jennings took a course called The Bible as Literature. When it was his turn to read, both nerves and an unfamiliar scripture got in the way.

It was then that Jennings discovered that he could only read at a third-grade level.

“That was the first time anyone in the world found out about that. As a matter of fact, my parents didn’t even know,” Jennings said.

Four years later, he would go on to graduate and continue with what brought him to Purdue, basketball.

However, an accident ended his basketball career.

“I was going up for a dunk and someone undercut me and I just came down flat on my back.”

He had four herniated discs, and his doctor said he had to choose between not being able to walk by the age of 45 or to stop playing basketball.

“I decided B, I wanted to be able to move a little bit and be around my kids,” Jennings said.

Now, Jennings is 45 years old. He has two kids and one grandchild. He has multiple degrees and is currently working on his Doctorate.

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