In the shadow of the Mississippi State Penitentiary's rear entrance sits Shelby, Mississippi, a city that boasted of 2,229 souls at the last census - about 700 fewer than the one before. If one looked at the statistics, an African American male in the shrinking town of Shelby would have a greater chance of being incarcerated than earning a bachelor's degree.
As a student at Broad Street High School, Kahari Scott was determined to not be a statistic.
“My school was on probation for underachievement in academics,” said Scott. “The board took over and brought in Teach for America teachers.”
One of those teachers was Sarah Walker, a language arts teacher from Texas who required her students to “read 25 pages and write one page a day.” Scott said he recently came across his old journal from high school.
“While I cherish where I come from, many of my journal entries reflected the goal to not become a product of my environment, 'I will not be a status quo. I will not fall into this statistic. I will not be the average black male from my society.'
“My teacher probably thought I was crazy, but it was the personality of a young man knowing that I wanted more for myself,” said Scott.
As a graduate in the School of Nursing class of 2016, Scott has taken the steps to ensure that he will never be a victim of his early environment.
“My dad would always tell me, 'Son, move like you have a purpose in life,'” said Scott. “He has a quote for everything, but he's right. If you don't have a purpose, you don't have an action. If you don't have an action, you can't expect an outcome.”
Scott's parents, Larry and Jacqueline Scott, both spent parts of their careers as penitentiary officers at Parchman. His dad also holds the titles of U.S. Army veteran and retired school principal.
“When the streetlights came on, I had to be in the house,” said Scott. “There was a lot of crime that went on. Not major crimes but things that young boys shouldn't be exposed to were out in the streets. My parents tried to shelter me from that, and I thank God that they did.”
Finding his niche as an academic rather than athlete, Scott said he knew that knowledge was his way out of the Delta. He was the only male honor student in his graduating class.
“I tried playing sports, to be popular and to be the jock. That wasn't my thing,” said Scott. “Being in the classroom - sitting at that desk doing my work - that was my thing.”
After high school, Scott attended Jackson State University as a social work major, but settling on a career path was a challenge. He considered going into psychology then therapeutic recreation before choosing nursing.
“It's actually a decision I made with my dad,” said Scott. “My dad has always been my voice of reason. It was a Sunday afternoon at Red Lobster, and I told him, 'I still don't know what I want to do. I just know I want to help people.'”