These three F’s have set the foundation for young Jamal Nixon ’17, helping him to find his way — from Chicago and Plainfield, IL, to Oak Park and Mankato, MN, and beyond.
An injury can’t hold back a leader of Friars. Facing “minor” knee surgery, Jamal says he will be ready to hoop again for the Minnesota State Mavs in the New Year.
By Mark Vruno
Jamal Nixon ’17 is a winner: off the basketball court as well as on it. His father, outplacement services professional William Nixon, credits Friars’ Head Basketball Coach Rick Malnati with nurturing Jamal’s competitive edge, which transfers from sports to school. “Teachers have the ability to tap into this and allow kids to achieve at their highest levels,” Mr. Nixon believes. “At Fenwick, they are willing to develop you as a student.”
William watched pridefully as his son developed and flourished. Jamal’s natural leadership abilities were enhanced in the classroom and in the gymnasium. William and his wife, Loretta (Moore) Nixon, employ basketball as a platform to tell a Friar’s story that is much bigger than athletics. Jamal and his family came into Fenwick with an open mind but didn’t really know anything about the “Catholic thing” and the school’s culture, says his mother, who is Manager of IT Audit and Advisory Services at Health Care Service Corp.
Loretta and William were teenage sweethearts at Westinghouse High School in Chicago. When the curious parents inquired about Fenwick, they began hearing words such as, “legacy,” “tradition” and “multi-generational families.” They noticed how many alumni come back to teach at the private school. “We found all of that very impressive,” Loretta admits, including the relationship-building and connection aspects of “Friar Nation” and all its devoted alumni. “Fenwick offers so much in terms of mentoring, community and the alumni network,” praises her husband.
The parents wondered how structured or strict the Fenwick environment was – academically and behaviorally. They have very high expectations of their sons, and they wanted to ensure that their expectations for Jamal matched the school’s.
“I was pushed and challenged by my teachers in the classrooms of Fenwick,” Jamal says now, in his first semester at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “Mike [Smith, a teammate and friend] warned me about the challenging academics, but I wasn’t prepared as a freshman.”
Looking back on the experience, Jamal believes that success in school also has helped to build his self-confidence. His mom concurs: “There is an even playing field with kids coming in [to Fenwick],” she reports with hindsight. “You have to have an open mind and embrace the culture. Fenwick is more than willing to help you succeed.”
Christian values also are very important to the Nixons, whose religious roots are planted firmly in the Baptist tradition. The spiritual aspects of Fenwick and the core Dominican values were strong selling points, they say. “My family is Christian, but I had never studied Theology before [coming to Fenwick],” Jamal notes. Adds his mother, “Community service is huge at Fenwick, and Jamal learned to give back.”
“Fenwick is the place we knew we wanted Jamal to be,” she asserts. And the Nixons were willing to sacrifice to make sure he could come. “I was okay with borrowing from my 401 (k) for Jamal to get the education he deserves,” explains Loretta, “but we still needed some help financially. It all has been worth the price.”
William notes that he and his wife are thoroughly grateful to the benefactors who make this high level of education possible for kids. “The assistance we received was very much appreciated,” he says, then adds quickly: “But Fenwick also benefited by having a great kid in Jamal as part of the community!”