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Mama's Boy; Preacher's Son

"Click on image to go to Kevin Jennings GLSEN site."

Book Description

Growing up poor in the South, Kevin Jennings learned a lot of things, especially about how to be a real man. When his father, a fundamentalist preacher, dropped dead at his son"s eighth birthday party, Kevin already knew he wasn"t supposed to cry.

He also knew there was no salvation for homosexuals, who weren"t "real men"—or Christians, for that matter. But Jennings found his salvation in school, inspired by his mother. Self-taught, from Appalachia, her formal education had ended in sixth grade, but she was determined that her son would be the first member of their extended family to go to college, even if it meant going North. Kevin, propelled by her dream, found a world beyond poverty. He earned a scholarship to Harvard and there learned not only about history and literature, but also that it was possible to live openly as a gay man.

But when Jennings discovered his vocation as a teacher and returned to high school to teach, he was forced back into the closet. He saw countless teachers and students struggling with their sexual orientation and desperately trying to hide their identity. For Jennings, coming out the second time was more complicated and much more important than the first—because this time he was leading a movement for justice.

Mama"s Boy, Preacher"s Son is that rare memoir that is both a riveting personal story and an inside account of a critical chapter in our recent history. Creating safe schools for teenagers is now a central part of the progressive agenda in American education. Like Paul Monette"s landmark Becoming a Man, Dorothy Allison"s Bastard Out of Carolina, and Rick Bragg"s All Over but the Shoutin", Kevin Jennings"s poignant, razor-sharp memoir will change the way we see our contemporary world.


Reviewer: Lester Brown (Portland, OR)

Very Touching Story

Very few books I've read have touched me as deeply as Kevin Jenning's book "Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son." The author does an excellent job hooking the reader in with descriptions of life growing up in the South, with feelings of not being "normal."

From the depths of despair in a childhood gone wrong, Kevin managed to form an idea of how to change the climate in schools, and make them a better place for kids to learn. The things he went through as a student trying to get an education and putting up with bullying and harassment are amazing, and incredibly sad. This book should be required reading for teachers entering the field, so they understand why bullying and harassment isn't just "kids being kids" and can cause significant and lasting damage to the victims.


Publishers Weekly

This rags-to-riches story, about growing up poor and eventually reaching Harvard has bite and pathos. The youngest son of a born-again Southern Baptist preacher originally from Massachusetts, and a mother from Appalachian Tennessee, Jennings led an itinerant youth among trailer parks in Southern towns where his dad would try to find work. The boy couldn't make his father proud on the football field, and already he had learned that "being a real man meant taking advantage of anyone smaller or weaker than you." With his father's abrupt death when Jennings was eight, he became a "mama's boy," introverted, brainy and overweight, and ridden by guilt at his incipient homosexuality. Supported by his scarcely educated mother, who became the first woman manager at McDonald's, Jennings excelled in school and on the debate team and was accepted to Harvard by 1981. Jennings became a high-school teacher, at Concord Academy among others, agonizing over the decision to out himself; he promoted the creation of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to protect students from the kind of harassment he experienced firsthand. When his national crusade brought him back home to speak at the same Winston-Salem school system where his "young soul had almost been crushed," Jennings writes of his journey with graciousness and candor.


Kevin Jennings--named to Newsweek Magazine’s "Century Club" as one of "100 people to watch in the new century"--co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN in) in 1990, to bring together gay and straight teachers, parents and community members who are working to end anti-gay bias in K-12 schools. Today he is executive director of GLSEN, one of the largest organizations of its kind in the U.S., with chapters in over 80 cities.

In the early 1990s Jennings co-chaired the education committee of the Governor’s Commission on Gay & Lesbian Youth, which successfully led the fight to make Massachusetts the first state in the U.S. to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against public school students and to establish a state-wide program called "Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students" to combat anti-gay bias in K-12 schools.

The author of several books, including Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students, the first book of its kind designed especially for a high school audience, Jennings also wrote and produced the documentary Out of the Past, which won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary.

ennings served on the faculties of the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts’ Concord Academy from 1987 to 1994. In 1992, he was named one of the 50 "Terrific Teachers Making a Difference" by the Edward Calesa Foundation.

He received the B.A. degree from Harvard University in 1985, the M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1994, and the M.B.A. degree from New York University in 1999.


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The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Tarrant County

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Tarrant County



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