Photo by Danny Fulgencio

If Ryvver Jenkins’ young life was an opera, it might be titled “The Young Maiden’s Curse.” But what began as a tragedy now shows the promise of the sweetest of arias.

The 18-year-old senior at W.T. White High School says she is a child of rape. “My mother has a lot of resentment,” Ryvver says. “She tried to love me to the best of her abilities, but sometimes she didn’t show it or have the words.”

Ryvver took out her anger at school. During her freshman and sophomore years, she talked back to teachers, skipped school and failed classes. She frequented in-school suspension.

“Everyone knows me for being wild, getting in fights, having a temper, from rumors,” she says. “I was angry. It was me trying to let it out and just in the wrong way.”

Things got so bad during the end of her junior year that Ryvver moved to San Antonio to live with her grandmother. She took online courses. When she returned to W.T. White for her senior year, she paid rent to live at a friend’s house. Her attitude had changed.

“ ‘I can goof around in high school, but then after graduation what’s going to happen?’ ” she says she remembers thinking. “I was going to be the girl who messed around and didn’t get her life together. I didn’t want to be that. I was scared for that.”

Ryvver worked hard to improve her grades. She worked as a hostess at the restaurant Republic. At one point, she had  two jobs with no transportation. She walked an hour to get from a job at the Galleria to the restaurant.

Her sanctuary was the school’s choir room, where she sang and studied between classes. “You never want to play favorites, but she’s one of them,” says Douglass Harrell, W.T. White’s Director of Choral Activities. “She found her way and has matured vocally, allowing music to be the release she needs.”

Ryvver says, “It showed me that I can be on my own. I can take care of myself. I can do something with my life.”

Ryvver stands on the school stage alone, wearing jeans, a simple blue T-shirt and flat sandals. Her curly hair is piled high on her head. She says her voice doesn’t lend itself to R&B or pop. It comes out sounding too proper, she says. She launches into her favorite song, Ave Maria. Her hands are clasped in front and her eyes are closed. Her face tilts up as she sings.

“Ave Maria! maiden mild!” reads the English translation.

“Listen to a maiden’s prayer!

“Thou canst hear though from the wild;

“Thou canst save amid despair.”

“Opera is really beautiful to me,” she says. “Everyone knows what you’re saying even if you don’t speak the language.”

Now, nearly a month from graduation, Ryvver jokes that the spelling of her name is a curse at Starbucks. She talks animatedly about her five brothers, ages 16, 8, 6, 4, 1. She says she broke down and cried when she received her acceptance letters to the University of North Texas at Denton and Louisiana State University.

She’s excited about attending UNT, where she plans to major in music and minor in psychology. She’s busy applying for scholarships and studying the book called “Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias.”

The recent death of her grandmother in San Antonio was difficult, but it did not set her back. In fact, it helped heal her relationship with her mother. Ryvver plans to move home to live with her mother and brothers for the remainder of the school year. “We had a sit down,” she says. “My mom said she could only love me how much she knows how. She had a hard life. I accepted that. I don’t want to have the regret, the way she did when her mother passed away. All I can do is love her.

“I am the product of rape. It is what it is. I’ve accepted it,” Ryvver says. “If no one can find me, I’m in the choir room chillin’.”


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