Jackson State University honors graduate Rodney Daniely was just a few months old when he attended his mother’s graduation, and now, 23 years later, she watched him receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering on April 28.
Although Chernita Blackmon Daniely flirted with the idea of an abortion, she quickly abandoned the thought. She and her boyfriend, Rodney J. Daniely – who shares the same name as the child except the middle initial – agreed to do whatever it would take to successfully raise the child. Later, the couple would marry.
After Chernita Daniely “mustered up the strength” to tell her mom about the unplanned pregnancy, she soon discovered the power of the “village” in helping to raise her son. That’s because JSU rallied to her support.
Eventually, she would begin prenatal care, visiting doctors in Mississippi and her native Atlanta. Rodney was born in 1994 and instantly became part of JSU, with supporters nurturing the newborn by feeding him and changing his diapers.“Everyone formed a circle, and the professor held me up like Simba in the ‘Lion King’ movie. The entire class blessed me.” — Rodney Daniely, recent JSU graduate, electrical engineeringBlackmon Daniely credited individuals such as recently retired associate professor/chair Dr. Mary White in the College of Business. She worked with other faculty to provide coursework ahead of time to prevent the young mother from falling behind. Staffers pitched in, too, including Joyce Jordan-Gooden – executive administrative assistant in the Office of the President – to make sure other needs were met.
White remembers the quagmire faced by the new mom.
“Chernita was like a lot of students facing challenges who come to us with aspirations of obtaining a degree. Even though she became pregnant, our main goal was to support her.” White said Blackmon Daniely took a brief hiatus from school but was inspired to continue her education.
The young mother’s son also endeared himself to White.
“He proudly called me Mom and became part of my family, too,” White added. “He made weekly visits to my office to share updates on his academic and personal progress, assisted with various student forums and served as my bodyguard on numerous occasions.”
The urban university always has been about compassion for all students, White said.
She boasts, “JSU represents an opportunity for students to come in and get an education. We embrace them, teach them and expose them to different kinds of activities to help them grow and get across the stage. JSU is a purpose-driven institution.”
Rodney, 23, said his mother originally wanted to attend Hampton University, but JSU won out because it offered her a marching band scholarship. At JSU, the band director nicknamed her “Spanky” based on her perceived character. Every freshman in the band is given a “crab name” that supposedly matches his or her personality. Blackmon Daniely is a former clarinet section leader, and most people know her only as “Spanky.”
Because of his mom’s influence, Rodney said she paved the way for him by building “many relationships with individuals who have now become his family.” As a result, he said he believes he was destined to attend JSU. “Also, it would have been foolish not to come because the foundation already had been laid for me.”
His mother shared with him that one of her professors urged Blackmon Daniely, then 22, to bring her infant son to class one day. “That’s when everyone formed a circle, and the professor held me up like Simba in the Lion King movie. The entire class blessed me,” Rodney said.
Looking back at her life, Blackmon Daniely said, “At that time in school we were young and thought everything was about us. But little did we know that everything wasn’t about us.” She would later realize that she was actually preparing her son to follow in her footsteps.
She said, “Things happen in life that we don’t always plan for, but with perseverance you can stick with it and make it happen.”
Blackmon Daniely described Rodney’s graduation as “déjà vu, coming full circle and surreal.” She’s happy that her determination to succeed has rubbed off on him.
Over the past months, the honors student in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology has been offered a number of jobs. These include aerospace at Raytheon, headquartered in Maryland, and with the U.S. Air Force on the Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Ultimately, he settled with NAVSEA (Navy Sea Systems Command) in Virginia, where he’ll perform integration of defense systems on warships.
Young Rodney’s parents rooted vigorously for him and weathered the storm of uncertainty, making him a third-generation graduate on his mother’s side and the first on his dad’s side.
His father, Rodney J., said his first born “exceeded my expectations. He has gone above and beyond. I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s an accomplishment that you simply can’t put into words.”“At that time in school we were young and thought everything was about us. But little did we know that everything wasn’t about us.” — Chernita ‘Spanky’ Blackmon Daniely, 1995 JSU alum Rodney J. is especially pleased that his son has remembered his lessons on benevolence toward others. “I’ve always taught all three of our kids that no matter how successful you become in life never forget where you came from, and never forget who helped to get you where you are. Once, he watched me give money to a homeless man and asked why. I told him the person was in a bad spot and just needed a little help. So, I’m a firm proponent of giving back to others.”
While speaking of his father, young Rodney – choking back tears – said he’s proud of the training he received and is privileged to grow up with both parents in the household.
“My dad is a hardworking man and instilled in me how to be a man at a very young age,” said Rodney, whose paternal grandmother died in September. He also lost his aunt before his freshman year. “So, this graduation is for all the loved ones who passed throughout the years. When I walk across the stage I know they’re going to be right next to me.”
The elder Rodney said the entire family is hyped about his son’s success, and on graduation day friends and relatives from throughout the nation screamed and shed tears of joy. Looking back, he said, becoming a parent at an early age was frightening. “I wasn’t ready to be a father. What was I going to teach him? I had to learn on the fly.”
“Nevertheless, I began sharing everything with Rodney because I think it’s those moments that help young boys become men. I didn’t have this type of relationship with my father. So, I decided I was going to be the type of father that my father wasn’t to me. I can honestly say it worked.”
Despite their best efforts, there were still some struggles. However, Blackmon Daniely credits a “village” for helping to support her son during the early years and today. Young Rodney countered that a “nation” helped shape him because the support was so widespread.
Another one of those key helpful individuals was Detroit resident Tamarie Burns, a 1995 JSU alum who had studied computer science information systems but originally wanted to become an electrical engineer like Rodney. She was his baby-sitter.
Also, Burns was Blackmon Daniely’s roommate when they lived off campus. Her support was vital because she would watch little Rodney while Blackmon Daniely studied for exams and attended class or other appointments.
“Chernita worked hard and didn’t let anything stop her. … Rodney was a laid-back baby,” said Burns, who cherished her role as a baby-sitter.
“When women carry children in the womb whatever you’re doing you pass along to them. And, I like that Rodney has hustle in him. A lot of kids don’t have that pickup-and-go attitude. He’s about his business. He’s smart, and things are effortless to him.”
Undeniably, Rodney is active. He has been involved in a Verizon STEM program at JSU as a mentor and tutor to minority males. He was named a Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges in 2016 and is a member of several honor societies: Epsilon Pi Tau, Chi Epsilon Alpha and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
As well, he’s involved in organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).“I decided I was going to be the type of father that my father wasn’t to me. I can honestly say it worked.” — Rodney J. Daniely Apart from academics, he unwinds by listening to music, writing poetry and keeping up with fashion in GQ magazine.
With all that he’s accomplished, Rodney further credits JSU for giving him confidence.
“JSU helped me break out of my shell to become more sociable. Now, you can put me in any location, and I can adjust. I can talk to anyone. JSU helped me grow my way of thinking and changed my way of looking at life. At first, coming to college was for selfish reasons: becoming a lawyer and making money.”
Rodney said he’s glad he decided to become an engineer because “we are problem-solvers. I vow to give money back to the university that gave me so much, and I will return to speak to classes in hopes of making an impact in their lives.”