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West Meck senior leads by example

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  • Meet Isaac Pinkney

    Age: 17.

    School: 12th grade, West Mecklenburg High.

    Athletic activities: Isaac is a brown belt in karate, and plays baseball and football at West Meck.

    Favorite Bible verse: 1 Peter 5:10, because it talks about being restored after suffering, which Isaac said he relates to.

    Hobbies: Drawing, video games, being an ambassador and service project chairman for Young Black Men Leadership Alliance, serving as president of West Meck’s Committed Young Christians club.

    Favorite books: “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Life of Pi.”



Seventeen years ago, Isaac Pinkney was born almost two months early. At 2 pounds, his mother called him a miracle baby.

But as an infant, he cried a lot. When Isaac was a toddler, his mother and her husband, Colin, discovered he wouldn’t respond when they talked to him.

Isaac was diagnosed with expressive receptive language disorder, which meant Isaac could not understand what people were saying to him, nor could he verbally express himself.

“I didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand me,” Isaac said. “It was almost as if I were mute.”

Today as a senior at West Mecklenburg High, Isaac is no longer a silent, frustrated boy. (He responded well to therapy as a youngster and returned to mainstream classes in second grade.) Today, he’s a young man who has become a school leader, using his voice to promote understanding and serving as a role model. He has overcome the disorder through intensive language therapy as a boy, and said he has his own system for processing words both on paper and by ear.

“It’s not really challenging anymore,” he said. “Through reading and the help of my parents, I’ve become more eloquent and have expanded my vocabulary.”

He’s the group commander of West Meck’s Air Force Junior ROTC unit, president of the Committed Young Christians club, a four-year-football player as a defensive end and the service project chairman for the Young Black Men Leadership Alliance.

“It’s always amazed me,” he said of his progress. “I didn’t even think I’d be in ROTC.”

Leading by actions

If you run into Isaac, chances are good you’ll see his Bible, too, which he carries wherever he goes.

His mom, Terry Pinkney, said he began carrying it in middle school as a source of strength against bullies. And, long after the bullies discovered they couldn’t provoke him, Isaac never stopped carrying it.

He said he hopes the visual of his Bible gets other people thinking about God.

His football coach, Jeff Caldwell, said it’s the little things Isaac does that make him a standout.

Since Isaac was in the ninth grade, Caldwell has noticed that he holds the door for students at lunch every day. He regularly chats with the school’s security man, the custodians, the cafeteria workers. He listens.

“He leads by actions,” Caldwell said. “When he starts talking, you best believe it’s something good – he doesn’t waste his words.”

Lt. Col. Jack Rickman, Isaac’s ROTC instructor, said he’s a natural leader. “He commands respect from everyone, and he does it in a really tactful way. It’s amazing.”

Brian Lawing, who’s taught Isaac at West Meck and is also the Christian club’s adviser, said Isaac probably has the most recognizable face at school.

In two years, Isaac has grown the club from two members to about 20.

Once misunderstood, literally, as a child, Isaac said he hopes to bring understanding among his peers at school.

Because he carries his Bible and lives his Christian values, he said some people mistakenly think he’s perfect or that he thinks he’s better than others.

“Being misunderstood can be a little heartbreaking,” he said. “Misconceptions – those kinds of things can bring you down a little bit.”

While Isaac prefers to listen to Christian rap, rock and gospel music, he also listens to secular music to know what his peers are listening to and to understand them better.

“You can’t really (understand others) if you stay in a confined box,” he said.

John Martin, the founder of Young Black Men Leadership Alliance, said Isaac always steps forward when help is needed. He was named one of Charlotte’s Top 100 Young Black Men.

“He’s not afraid to be different,” Martin said. “He’s not afraid to be himself.”

‘He’s for real’

Isaac needed a lot of determination to succeed. He said he’s always felt that drive.

His mom recalled a time when he was 5 or 6 and got his first bicycle. He’d never ridden before, but insisted on learning how without the training wheels.

“We went up and down the street till he learned how to ride a bike that day,” she said. “ ‘Determination, mom. I will never give up,’ ” she said he kept telling her.

Now Isaac is thinking about the future, and he’s still determined to do well. He has applied to a handful of colleges and hasn’t yet made a decision. After that, the military is a possibility, he said, but his dream job is becoming a video game designer. He’s enjoying his final year of high school, something he never thought he’d like when he was younger.

Pinkney said she’s always floored – pleasantly – when she visits Isaac’s school.

“It runs the gamut of students who say, ‘Wow, we just think Isaac is great, he’s for real,’ ” she said. “I think they mean he doesn’t sway with what group he’s in.

“If he’s going to hang out with the football team it’s the same Isaac; the Christian club, he’s the same Isaac. He’s just consistent and they see that, and I think that’s what happened in middle school: You’re not gonna move him.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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