It was the story of a pair of young men separated by more than a century, but charged with the same fierce drive to learn.
Their stories electrified a roomful of teachers and public officials gathered at the Omni International Hotel today for the Baltimore Teachers Union's annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday.
Warning that racism and discrimination continue to slow black advancement, Dr. Therman E. Evans, the featured speaker, went on to preach about two men who overcame tremendous odds to get an education.
Evans, vice president of the CIGNA insurance company, warned teachers not to sell their disadvantaged students short: "You may be able to measure a performance on a standardized test, but you cannot measure inspiration and you cannot measure perspiration and you cannot measure motivation."
He told of Jamie Parker, a young slave in South Carolina in the 1830s, in a time and place when it was illegal to teach blacks to read. Parker persuaded an educated free black man to teach him to read -- and both paid a heavy price for such defiance.
One night, white vigilantes discovered Parker and his tutor during a lesson, Evans said.
"And for his desire to learn to read, Jamie Parker was stripped and whipped on his back with a bullwhip, 39 times," Evans said. "The record indicates that each lash opened a wound on his back.
"And just to reconvince him that black people were to remain in ignorance, his wounds were washed in salt water."
As for his tutor, "a black man, trying to teach a black boy to read -- hung by the neck until dead."
Flash forward to Philadelphia in the 1980s, where a boy named Kevin Jones was struggling against roadblocks of his own.
"When Kevin Jones was born in Philadelphia, his father left him, left the family," Evans said. "His mother raised him until he was age 15."
But at that point, "Kevin Jones' mother got hooked on 'crack' and she went to the streets. Kevin Jones was left to fend for himself."
Undaunted, the boy held down two part-time jobs, got himself a room, fed and clothed himself, "went to school every single day," Evans said. Jones eventually graduated 22nd in a class of 600 and received a full academic scholarship to Penn State University.
Evans went on to praise the role of committed teachers in making sure that children receive the education they deserve, urging listeners to persevere.
"It's easy for this thing to get routine on a day-to-day basis," he said of teaching. "It is a major challenge and should not ever be taken for granted."