Mother-son bond leads to book deal

Nikyle Burney is a special guy.

“When he walks into a room it immediately changes for the better,” said PSE&G Jersey City District Manager Mike Hogan, who supervised Burney in Harrison Gas for almost two years. “Whenever we encountered a sensitive issue with a customer or municipality, he was our ‘go to’ because of his uncanny ability to resolve issues and instill confidence in people.”

After years of watching Burney handle tough assignments and challenging customers seamlessly, Hogan wanted to know how Burney became the person he is today and he learned that his mom, Michelle Jenkins, had a lot to do with it.

Last year, Hogan ran a story on the duo in a newsletter he produces for Northern Gas employees. Jenkins posted about the article in a social media group and received more than 4,000 responses in one day.

The interest ultimately led to a book deal, which detailed Jenkins experience being a single mother from Newark who raised her son to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The book, MOBB (Mothers of Black Boys) in Action: Unleashing the Brilliance of Boys of Color, represents a full circle for Jenkins, she said, as she has worked in personal development for about 42 years and loves being able to positively impact others.

Raising Burney

As a coach and teacher when Burney was young, Jenkins actively taught her son about his responsibilities, yet she’s also quick to credit him with having his own compass. She said Burney would constantly do things to help people that she might find out about years later.

Recounting some of the many stories told in her book, Jenkins vividly recalled a moment when Burney was a college football player, signing autographs, and she witnessed a child staring at him in admiration while his father thanked Burney for being a role model to his son.

“After, I asked Nik what that was about and he told me, ‘I go to elementary schools and find out who is having problems and who needs mentoring.’ He had been doing it for two or so years,” Jenkins said proudly. “He also had a project for the homeless where he lived with them outside, and kept in touch after the project was over. Another time he and his friends rented a field and used half the field to sell Christmas trees and the other half to hold an Olympics for special needs children.”

Burney said that, as a youngster, he knew neighbors “from soccer players to drug dealers. I didn’t know what they did. I just liked to say hi to everyone. My mom recognized that might get me in trouble. She moved us to get me out of harm’s way.”

When Burney was 11 and an opportunity arose to move to Virginia, Jenkins took it. It enabled her to put him in better schools and to continue to seek positive role models for him. Jenkins said connecting young men to mentors has been part of her life’s work, a calling.

Because Jenkins wants to inspire others to become even more intentional in raising boys of color, she also shares tough stories in the book, such as times police officers pointed guns at her son.

“We have people protesting and picketing and changing laws, and that’s needed; I’ve done all of that,” Jenkins said, “but the missing piece is – few are down in the trenches, having transformational conversations to develop them. We are the Picassos molding them from an early age.”

Burney said he was a tall and clumsy kid who played chess but, when he moved to Virginia, his mother signed him up for football to help him make friends and find a new mentor.

“The coach really taught me how to play, and at the same time, taught me how to be a humanitarian,” Burney said. “His advice always stuck with me.”

Burney went on to become the #1 high school running back in Virginia, spent an additional two years at Fork Union Military Academy and continued gaining a reputation as a running back at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Top of his game

While sports have influenced his life, “it’s the team dynamic,” Burney said he knew he didn’t want to play professionally and thought he might end up selling insurance. Yet he spent a lot of time back in New Jersey with a Wake Forest teammate, Ira Williams Jr., and his dad, a PSE&G Summit Gas inspector, who convinced him to apply for a job with the company.

Nearly 17 years later, after starting in the Jersey City Street Department, moving to Appliance Service, becoming a distribution supervisor in Harrison Gas, getting married (to Tina) and having twins (Nikyle and Navia), Burney is glad that he agreed to be featured by Hogan in the Northern Gas newsletter.

“Mike said, ‘I know you’re a very private person,’ and I said, ‘Mike, if I am being honest, I don’t want to be showcased like that. It will seem like I am trying to be cocky.’”

Hogan persisted because, while he didn’t know Burney’s story, he knew it would be important to others. “I never thought it would result in a book. This is beyond what I ever set out to do.”

And Jenkins’ number one fan, Burney, decided to wait and read the book after publishing, “so it will be just as suspenseful for me as for everyone else.”

Read the original article, “Positive Attitude – Forged,” by Stephen Sharkey of Utility Compliance Review.

Hear more from Michelle Jenkins in the interview “Unleashing the brilliance of Boys of Color”.

Lauren Ugorji, Lead Writer - PSE&G

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