Celebrating the Bicentennial
Somewhere, Kenneth Robinson had acquired a nickname: everyone called him Babe, perhaps because he was the youngest of the Robinson brothers, perhaps because girls were drawn to him. Dark skinned and solidly built, Babe cared about his looks: he kept his teeth white and his hair perfectly waved, ironed his own clothes, shined his shoes, and made sure his sneakers had clean laces. He was funny and outgoing, popular with the boys and girls from the Booker T. and Montgomery Gardens projects who spent their free time watching TV, playing cards, maybe sipping a beer or a wine cooler every now and then. He liked going to Bruce Lee karate movies in the theaters around Journal Square, the bustling heart of Jersey City, or on Forty-Second Street in Manhattan. To his siblings, Babe seemed smart, his nose often buried in a book; although he would one day tell a reporter that he hadn’t understood his schoolwork, they thought he got good grades.
But at Harold Ruvoldt’s press conference that January day in 1972, Babe stood upon a threshold that often tripped up inner-city kids: he was a few months away from leaving the familiar cocoon of grammar school for the greater anonymity, independence—and temptations—of high school. In Jersey City, the schools lost most of their dropouts in ninth and tenth grade; students who made it to junior year were likely to get across the finish line.
Babe did have one thing in his favor. A few years earlier, the district had replaced an old high school in a different neighborhood with a new building about half a mile from the Booker T. projects, reconfiguring