Jim Cunningham

Hometown: Columbus, MS

high school: Mississippi School for Science and Math

college: Princeton University

MAJOR: Philosophy

At age seven, Jim watched neighborhood children scrap in the street amidst poverty, drugs, and chaos. He credits these experiences with his deep commitment to serving and improving the lives of “folks in the hood.” Since ninth grade, Jim has devoted his weekends, summers, and holidays to serving his community. He has distributed food to homeless people on Thanksgiving Day, spent summers teaching Algebra 1 to low-income African-American students, toiled in the back yards of elderly neighbors, and founded an individual mentorship program for entering high school freshmen. Service is the theme of his future aspirations—two of which are to establish a non-profit organization for academically gifted low-income students and specialty schools for low-income students.

Ask Jim where he gets his drive and determination, and he’ll credit his mother, Andrea Cunningham. Quiet and calm, yet strong-willed and hardworking, Jim’s mother—a single parent with four kids—sacrificed her youth to raise him. Jim’s mother always encouraged him to do two things: never forget God and always work hard.

The latter characteristic, work ethic, coupled with his intense curiosity explains Jim’s academic success. Whether he was striving to be the only African-American Rotary Scholar from his community, or persevering to maintain a 4.0 GPA at Mississippi’s most rigorous high school (The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science), Jim devoted many late nights to extra studying, while his family and peers slept. His efforts have paid off; Jim has been named a Rotary Scholar, Zeubar Scholar, Governor Scholar, Questbridge Prep Scholar, and 100 Black Men Recipient. One of Jim’s proudest achievements, being named a LEDA Scholar, granted him the all-expense paid opportunity of spending seven weeks at a leadership development program at Princeton University.

Jim is also known throughout his community for his “golden voice.” At an early age, Jim realized his gift while singing “I’ll Fly Away” in his “home-made” band, in which he and his siblings played musical instruments created from cooking pots, pans, hanger sticks, and cardboard boxes. Later recognized locally and regionally for his musical gift, Jim has been choir director for Voices in Harmony and his local Boys & Girls Club’s children choir. He is also a male vocal leader of a male quartet group, a vocal intern at First United Methodist Church, a two time regional talent show winner, and a two time All-State honor choir member. Jim plays the trumpet, guitar, and the piano. As a trumpeter, Jim participates in honor bands across the state such as those at Delta State University, Northeast Community College, Itawamba Community College, Mississippi State University, the All-State Honor Band. Jim has also performed at Music in the Parks in San-Antonio, Dallas, Orlando, and New York.

Drawing compassion from personal struggle, with a heart for grassroots leadership and a focus on low-income student education, Jim plans to double-major in education and business so that he may happily begin his purpose driven-life.

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