Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - December 6, 2013

Connecting to East Palo Alto through a school

Avoiding her home community previously, mom is now a believer

by Chris Kenrick

Though they'd lived in East Palo Alto nearly two decades, Mimi and Darryl Pearson were skeptical about sending their children to any school in the city.

The couple moved into a house with Darryl's grandmother in East Palo Alto in the early 1990s. But mindful of the city's high murder rate at that time, they worked, shopped and built their lives elsewhere.

When daughters Domonique and Diamond reached school age, they found a private Christian school in Redwood City and, when that closed, enrolled the girls at Redeemer Lutheran School in Redwood City.

Only when the older daughter, Domonique, approached eighth-grade graduation did the Pearsons look at Eastside College Preparatory School — and liked what they saw, starting with Alison Mellberg, the friendly receptionist in the front office.

Mimi Pearson was "thoroughly impressed" when she attended an Eastside event at which graduates who'd gone on to Ivy League colleges came back to speak.

"Blacks graduating from Harvard? That really boosted me up. And I thought, 'My daughters can do this too. They don't have to become a statistic,'" she said.

"If a child has the ability to work hard, they can make it happen."

Domonique graduated from Eastside in June after spending all four of her high school years there. With scholarship offers at several schools including Gonzaga University, Syracuse University and Texas Christian, she settled on St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, because it seemed small and friendly and the Pearsons have relatives in the area.

"My husband and I didn't have the experience of college, so we're living it through our daughters," said Pearson, who works as an assistant in a doctor's office. Her husband works in the Kaiser Hospital environmental-services department.

"The colleges (Domonique) applied to and got into are just beyond me — like, we had to choose? Who gets to choose which college to go to because you got into so many?"

The Eastside teachers' belief in the students makes it possible for them to believe in themselves, she said.

"They make learning fun — even with all the hard work, all the late hours, all the papers you have to write. And my daughter connected with a different group of people — she had black friends that were smart, which we hadn't seen before."

Pearson's second daughter, Diamond, is a sophomore at Eastside, and Pearson now heads the school's parents association. Recent parent fundraising events have included a car wash and barbecue in October and, in November, sale of more than 5,000 homemade tamales.

"Thanks to Eastside I've gotten involved in East Palo Alto and I love it," Pearson said. "I brag on it now. Before, I used to drop the 'East' when I said I was from East Palo Alto. Sad to say, I probably missed out."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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