Joyce Dorsey Kenner says her parents much preferred she be a lawyer than a physical education teacher.
But Kenner, part of a set of triplets born to LaVerne Dorsey and the late James Dorsey in 1956 at Miami Valley Hospital, had other plans and said she did what it took to make them come true.
“I’ve always believed that sports are very important,” the former Roth High School girl’s track and field coach said. “I’ve been able to connect sports and academics.”
Kenner, the principal of the acclaimed Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago since August of 1995 and an educator in the Windy City even longer, and her students appear in “Becoming,” the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama.
The former first lady is an alumni of the high school.
Whitney M. Young Magnet High School's new $4.3 million athletic complex was named in Obama’s honor a little more than a year ago.
It is thought to be Chicago’s first public facility dedicated to Obama, who was born Michelle Robinson, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Obama and her crew had visited 20 young women at the high school twice in 2018.
Obama learned of the honor during the second visit.
“She blushed like a schoolgirl,” Kenner said of her reaction. “She was so honored that we would even think about naming it after her.”
The Netflix documentary shares a name with Obama’s 2018 book “Becoming,” a New York Times bestseller.
About 50 students from the high school received tickets to Obama’s book tour stop at United Center, Kenner said.
“We had a whirlwind relationship with Michelle Obama,” Kenner said. “It was a dream come true, especially for a young woman.”
Naming the athletic center for Obama was fitting because of her commitment to children and her campaign for fitness during her days in the White House, said Kenner, who majored in physical education and health at Ohio University. She holds a master’s degree from Wright State University and a doctorate degree of education from Loyola University.
Kenner, a tennis player for 40 years and a cheerleader during her days at OU, said the idea was floated to name the facility after her.
“(Michelle Obama) is more important than I am,” said Kenner, a member of the Illinois High School Athletic Association’s board and president of the Chicago Public Schools Athletic Association Executive Board. “We decided collectively to name it after her.”
Kenner and her siblings Janice and James “Jimmy” appeared in the Dayton Daily News and the Dayton Journal Herald several time between their birth and their 1974 graduation from Chaminade Julienne High School.
The first, dated June 16, 1956, says that their 18- and 19-year-old father and mother, then residents of 841 Clement Ave., expected just one child and had settled on the name Joyce.
“He started grinning when I said it was twins, but he almost fainted when I got to triplets,” the nurse who spoke to father James Dorsey told Journal Herald writer Mary Ellen Wolfe.
Dorsey, a recent graduate of Dunbar High School, was working in construction at the time of the triplets’ birth.
“Some graduation present,” he said of his triplets’ birth. “I won’t dare buy any more $27 shoes for 18 years now.”
Kenner, the couple’s second born and oldest of the triplets (they have an older sister name Sharon Dorsey), said she is glad she pursued a career in education even though it was not her parents’ — the owners of a former local chain called Jimmy’s Records and Gift Shop — first choice for her.
Her parents helped along the way and Kenner said she is confident she has made an impact on children’s lives in Chicago, a place she fell in love with during visits there to see a friend.
Under her leadership, Whitney Young has been listed as one of the top high schools in the country by Newsweek, the Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.
It has been recognized as one of the premier college preparatory high schools in Illinois and has produced several National Merit scholarship winners.
In 2010, Whitney Young was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
A married mother to an adult son, Kenner said any of the 2,200 students at her racially diverse high school can come down to her office at any time.
“They come and jump on me and say, ‘I’ve got into Harvard’ or they come in and say, ‘Can I close the door, I’ve been abused at home’,” said Kenner, the winner of an Outstanding Leadership Award given by Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.
Her brother James Dorsey works in real estate mortgage in Atlanta while sister Janice Allen is treasurer of Trotwood-Madison City Schools.
Kenner, a Chaminade Julienne Hall of Distinguished Alumni Award winner, said even her sister used to kid her about wanting to work with young people .
It came naturally to her.
“I just gravitate towards young people and I thought I could make a difference,” Kenner said. “I really care about kids. To me, they need a nurturing adult around them at all times.”
Kenner said her career path was not always smooth.
After losing her job when Jesse L. Jackson’s Operation Push shut down, Kenner did nails to pay her bills.
She landed her first job in the Chicago public schools after hearing about it at a party.
“ At one point, I didn’t have any money, but I made it work,” she said. “If you have a dream, then you should go after your dream.”
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