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A bus ride, a promise, and a dream fulfilled

Brothers George (left) and Johnny Huynh at their Dorchester apartment. Johnny attends UMass Amherst; George is accepted at Yale.ESSDRAS M SUAREZ/GLOBE STAFF

Just after 5 p.m. Monday, the text message popped up on my phone.

“I got in.”

I was sitting at my desk in the Globe newsroom, and I started crying.

For me, it was the culmination of the most incredible story, one that began two years ago when I worked on a series about the Number 19 MBTA bus.

We chose that bus route because it travels through many of the communities in Boston where struggle is the norm.

After months of work, I wanted to end with a story of hope. Early one morning, standing on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester, that hope drove right by me in the form of that 19 bus.


But it was no ordinary bus. I knew it to be one of the great opportunities in the city because I rode one just like it for six years. Once a day, that 19 bus transformed into a charter to Boston Latin School.

I spent a while trying to find the right students to tell the Boston Latin story, which is a story of opportunity where the promise is simple: It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from; it’s about where you’re going.

Emmett Folgert, who founded the Dorchester Youth Collaborative three decades ago and has been a mentor to hundreds of children with tough lives, told me he knew the kids I was looking for.

Their names are Johnny and George Huynh. Johnny was a junior. George was a sophomore.

I spent weeks with the brothers. They were shy at first. But slowly, they opened up.

Their parents are Vietnamese. Their father fought alongside US forces and went through incredible turmoil after the war.

In the states, the family struggled in a new culture. There were mental health problems left over from the war. The marriage fell apart.


Three years before I met them, the boys’ father jumped from the Tobin Bridge.

They were left alone with their mother, who struggled with mental health issues that left her on disability. So they essentially raised themselves, put their heads down, and took Boston Latin School up on its promise.

When we published their story, the response was immense. I spent weeks responding to heartfelt e-mails.

Billy Baker’s chronicling of life in trying conditions led to a mentoring role, which culminated in tears of joy for the triumph of George Huynh (above).Billy Baker/Globe Staff

But my story with the brothers was just beginning. I had grown to care deeply about the boys. I felt like they needed me. But I needed them more.

I became something of a mentor to them, and Folgert taught me how it’s done. Stay on them, he’d say. Ask questions.

I tried to fill the cracks in their lives in small ways: prom tickets, presents, protein; the sort of things I never had to think about. They paid me back by doing what they had always done: the right thing.

In the fall, Johnny left for his freshman year at UMass Amherst.

As college application time rolled around for George a few months later, we knew he was in a good position. His grades were outstanding. He had a compelling story. And so he aimed high. Very high.

These boys are the nearest I’ve come to that thing we call the American Dream. But when George texted me on Monday evening, it was simply too much. He had been accepted to Yale University.

I was so proud to be a witness to this story that I took to Twitter and updated the world on Chapter Two.


Then something incredible happened. Their story went viral. The response has been overwhelming. I can’t keep up. And over and over, I have received e-mails and tweets from people who told me they lost it when they read those three words: “I got in.”

Yes, you did, bud.

Billy Baker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.