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 wouldnt 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 didnt understand them and they didnt 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, hes 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.
Its not really challenging anymore, he said. Through reading and the help of my parents, Ive become more eloquent and have expanded my vocabulary.
Hes the group commander of West Mecks 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.
Its always amazed me, he said of his progress. I didnt even think Id be in ROTC.
Leading by actions
If you run into Isaac, chances are good youll 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 couldnt 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 its 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 schools security man, the custodians, the cafeteria workers. He listens.
He leads by actions, Caldwell said. When he starts talking, you best believe its something good he doesnt waste his words.
Lt. Col. Jack Rickman, Isaacs ROTC instructor, said hes a natural leader. He commands respect from everyone, and he does it in a really tactful way. Its amazing.
Brian Lawing, whos taught Isaac at West Meck and is also the Christian clubs 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 hes perfect or that he thinks hes 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 cant 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 Charlottes Top 100 Young Black Men.
Hes not afraid to be different, Martin said. Hes not afraid to be himself.
Hes for real
Isaac needed a lot of determination to succeed. He said hes always felt that drive.
His mom recalled a time when he was 5 or 6 and got his first bicycle. Hed 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 hes still determined to do well. He has applied to a handful of colleges and hasnt yet made a decision. After that, the military is a possibility, he said, but his dream job is becoming a video game designer. Hes enjoying his final year of high school, something he never thought hed like when he was younger.
Pinkney said shes always floored pleasantly when she visits Isaacs school.
It runs the gamut of students who say, Wow, we just think Isaac is great, hes for real, she said. I think they mean he doesnt sway with what group hes in.
If hes going to hang out with the football team its the same Isaac; the Christian club, hes the same Isaac. Hes just consistent and they see that, and I think thats what happened in middle school: Youre not gonna move him.
Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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