By: Marquise Francis & Rochelle Jo-Yen Kiam (Both OLU program graduates)
On July 30, 2022, friends and relatives gathered at International High School in Paterson, NJ to honor the memory of Carey Jenkins. Known affectionately as “Mr. Jenkins,” the high school guidance counselor—a larger-than-life figure—passed away nearly a year ago. However, safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his memorial service. Jenkins will be remembered for his subtle, southern-influenced speech; his quirky persistence in asking questions; and his unmistakable bluntness expecting nothing but the best from those he cared about most. He embodied accountability, and the lives he touched directly reflect that. Mr. Jenkins changed the trajectory of many lives and, ultimately, generations through his work as teacher, mentor, and founder of Operation Link Up (OLU).
Born in Gloucester, Mississippi, Jenkins attended California State University and worked on the west coast for two decades, then switched coasts to work with inner-city youth in Paterson, New Jersey. As a school counselor at John F. Kennedy High School, he founded Operation Link Up (OLU) in 1987 with 30 students. The organization eventually grew to more than 600 students from throughout the city.
Mr. Jenkins passed away on September 30, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Caroline Jenkins; sons: John, and Kevin; two grandchildren: Grace and Samuel; his daughter-in-law, Annie; four siblings: Leroy, Maxine, Marie, and Louise; and many, many, protégés. The first three trailblazing OLU alumni graduated from Syracuse University in 1995. Gina Zuniga, Lillian Garcia, and Rochelle Jo-Yen Kiam today are a doctor, high school guidance counselor, and lawyer, respectively. Zuniga recalled the doors OLU opened for her, both personally and professionally that helped her get into medical school. Garcia remarked that although they didn’t always see eye to eye, “Mr. Jenkins was like a father to me.”
Jabari Butler graduated from OLU and Syracuse University in 2016. Today he works as a web developer with the National Basketball Association (NBA). Butler credits Mr. Jenkins with his educational foundation. “Without Mr. Jenkins, I don’t think I would have had the extensive guidance and structure to be as well-prepared as I had been,” said Butler. Butler’s older sister, Nailah, who also attended Syracuse, said. “He gave me the advantage of that next level of education… Without OLU, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now.”
Angela Pearson Wells, a volunteer who served on the OLU board for many years and mentored several young women at OLU, spoke warmly of Mr. Jenkins. Such was her fondness and respect for him that she continued her relationship with him after she relocated from New Jersey and even visited Jenkins at his home in Virginia prior to his passing. “He was a kind, generous man who loved his family and all of his ‘kids’ in the OLU program,” Angela told The Positive Community.
At the memorial service, parents of OLU alumni announced the formation of The Carey Jenkins Memorial Scholarship, to be awarded annually to two Paterson, New Jersey graduating high school students who demonstrate the value of hard work and academic excellence. The goal is to award each recipient a $2,500 scholarship awarded in $500 increments over their four-to-five-year undergraduate collegiate career. We are sure Mr. Jenkins would approve.