U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite and his mother remember humble beginnings

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Kenneth Polite took the oath as U.S. Attorney in the middle of a firestorm. An online commenting scandal involving former prosecutors had tainted the office, and Polite would oversee the first-ever corruption trial of a former New Orleans mayor. But challenges do not  faze the 38-year-old New Orleans Native. In fact, he has defied obstacles all his life.

His life began in the Calliope Housing Development. His mother, Rosalind Ballansaw, took him on a tour of the old bricks.

"We lived in a duplex sort of," she said. "We had a balcony. This is it."

Polite doesn't remember his time in the Calliope.

"Every once in a while, I meet people who remember our family living there and profess to remember me crawling on their floors," he said. "Our family comes from humble beginnings."

Polite's Mom moved to the project when she was in sixth grade. She says her mother and father were together, then split when she was 14. As a teenager, Ballansaw says she always had her head in a book. She was always smart.

"From third grade my mama stopped looking at my report card," she said.

She helped to care for five brothers while her mother went to nursing school. The Mcdonogh 35 student didn't think about boyfriends, but that was about to change.

"One of my friends across the street from me in the project introduced me to Kenneth Polite Sr.," she said.

Polite was a senior at Fortier High School. They'd study together, and then he asked Rosalind's mother if he could take her to the movies.

"That's how that got started. It didn't take long and before you know it I got pregnant," she said.

She says her mother was very disappointed but gave her the options of adoption, abortion or marriage.  She chose marriage, and she was 16 when she walked down the isle on Aug. 16,  1975. Kenneth Jr. was born on Jan. 30, 1976. Ballansaw was still in high school and the young newlyweds moved out on their own. Family members pitched in.

"We had enough to pay rent and the light  bill. We didn't have enough money for food. It was hard and we made a way," she said.

"Every couple years or so I find out a little more detail about my mom's life and my father's life at that time," said Polite. "I know how difficult it must have been."

By high school graduation, Rosalind was pregnant with Kenneth's brother, Damion. She had started classes at Xavier.

"Little Kenneth was 3 and Damion was 2, and Kenneth left," she said. "We never talked about it, he just got his stuff and he was gone."

Alone with two sons, she applied for welfare and food stamps.

"After about a year at Xavier my welfare worker said  she was going to set me up for the state test," Rosalind said. "I made a 98."

She got a job in the state probation and parole typing pool and was able to get off of public assistance. She and her boys blossomed.

"All of the kids were just smart," she said. "Kenneth was really gifted. He skipped the fourth grade. He went from third to fifth."

By the time her third son, Tyrrel, was born, Ballansaw was able to buy her first home on Delery Street in the 9th Ward.

"In the  80s and early 90s, crack dealing was prevalent in that area and gun violence was on the rise," Polite said. "Most of the people who knew me and our family knew our mom was not somebody to play with, and she definitely did anything to protect her boys."

Ballansaw would take the kids to the public library every weekend.

"They got a library card and we would sit there and read books on Saturday, and that was our outing," she said.

They'd get an ice cream cone before the bus ride back home.

"I don't remember thinking to myself, 'I'm poor and I don't have certain things.' My mom made sacrifices to insure our life was comfortable," Polite said.

By high school, Police earned a full scholarship to De La Salle and made his mark. His mother says he excelled in speech and debate and academic games. He was always in the Honor Society.

"We took a bus everyday. The Galvez bus to Canal Street and to St. Charles Avenue for school," Polite said.

His senior year, offers from top schools like Amherst, Stanford, SMU, and Tulane poured in. He was first in his graduating class.

"He decided on Harvard, and he went off at 17," Ballansaw said, still feeling the pain of letting her son go.

Kenneth Polite said his mother cried quite a bit that day. Because of finances, her first trip to Boston wasn't until Kenneth's graduation in 1997.

"We drove from here. I had a van, and my mom and my kids and I drove all the way to Harvard. We spent the night in New York," she said.

Three years later, Polite graduated with honors from Georgetown Law School. He married an aspiring medical student he noticed on his first day at Harvard. Now, he and OBGYN Dr. Florencia Greer Polite have two daughters of their own. Kenneth's life wouldn't have been possible without his humble beginnings and a mother's love.

Rosalind ran into old friends in the Calliope who still call the development home.

"This is my son right here. He's the U.S. Attorney," she said with pride.

The son she was determined to bring into the world, now seems on top of it.

"It's a pretty good view. I have views up and down Poydras," he said from his 16th-floor office suite.

He calls his mom one of the strongest people he knows.

"Thank you Jesus," Ballansaw said. "Look at what God has done. He's an awesome, awesome young man."

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