Gunfire and violence unfortunately are nothing new to children in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood in North Charleston.

Twice in the last two weeks, Chicora School of Communications, with more than 450 students, was on lockdown due to the threat of violence outside its Spruill Avenue doors.

Remember the 8-month-old girl who was accidentally shot in early September by her 3-year-old brother? It happened in this neighborhood.

Other shootings have occurred, and they were not accidents.

But Assistant Principal Shavonna Coakley said “this is not the end for these kids.” She tells them there is more out there than what they see (or hear) in their community.

As such, the school held its inaugural College Bound Career Fair Friday, bringing in professionals to share info about their careers and colleges they attended.

Everyone wants students to have access and opportunities that would not ordinarily be available to them, Coakley said.

And she knows how valuable that is. Coakley grew up in the neighborhood and attended school there. A teacher inspired her.

A proud graduate

Coakley’s parents were teenagers when she was born, but they managed to go to college themselves and put five children through school.

She attended Chicora through fifth grade, then Norman C. Toole Middle School. She is a “proud” graduate of North Charleston High School.

A band teacher there, Vivian G. Simmons, “told me I was one in a million and to get my butt into college.”

That had such an effect on her.

In January 1996 she enrolled in Livingstone College, graduated in May 2000 and in August 2000 began teaching in the district.

In 2011, she came full circle and came back to Chicora.

Now she wants to influence other students.

She told participants that any small seed that’s planted can make a difference in these children’s lives.

Coakley, who chaired the event, principal Brian Agnew and the teachers at Chicora should be applauded for this effort. It is the extra step that will help these children to succeed inspite of their circumstances.

All students live in the neighborhood, and 98 percent are on free and reduced lunches.

Community efforts are ongoing to improve the neighborhood, and Coakley and others want all student to go to college if they desire.

She knows many of the parents because she went to school with them.

A billionaire

The students were gracious, asked good questions and were eager to hear from visitors.

When asked what they wanted to be, a few said policeman, fireman, teacher; several wanted to play in the NFL, and a few wanted to be scientists and invent video games.

Jazmine Brown, an 11-year-old fifth-grader, wants to attend the College of Charleston to study math. However, she is still toying with what she wants to be. Maybe a pop star. She likes Katy Perry and Michael Jackson.

Teachers said Jazmine is polite, helpful and a wonderful people person.

Alex Gray, same age and grade, (aka-season 5 as he refers to it) wants to be a chef who invents a new barbecue sauce. He likes honey mustard and is thinking about something sugary sweet with spices added for a kick.

Teachers say he likes to write commercials in which he sings, “Alex meal is the best in the world.” He wants to study science.

Oh, one student wants to be a billionaire. Well, who can knock that?

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or