Jenine's journey: Former East St. Louisan overcomes rough times

News-DemocratDecember 29, 2013 

How did a former East St. Louis cheerleader overcome personal tragedy and end up at the Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics? It's a long story.

The important part is that Jenine Humber loves her job as special events coordinator. She plans meetings, seminars, conferences and workshops for some of the nation's top scientists.

The center is based in Cambridge, Mass., so most events take place in Boston or Washington, D.C. But Jenine also has booked hotels and hired caterers in Hawaii, France, Spain, Chile, Italy, the Netherlands and Czech Republic.

"My favorite thing is being able to travel the world, but also I like the process of planning an event from start to finish," she said in a phone interview.

"And I really like dealing with different cultures, their policies and protocol."

Jenine, 51, wasn't always so happy or stable. She struggled to cope after the 1985 murder of her mother, Minnie Morris, and sister, Dawn Blanton, in East St. Louis.

A suspected thief stabbed the women multiple times in Minnie's apartment, leaving Dawn's 3-year-old son unharmed. No one was charged with the crime.

"I was such a mess," Jenine said. "It was very difficult. It was like I lost three years of my life. Time just stood still. I was a little zombie. I was going to work every day, but I wasn't part of society.

"Through therapy and a lot of prayer, I was able to get through it. The clouds separated, and the light started shining through."

Today, Jenine lives on Boston's South Shore with her husband, James, a former Army sergeant and security director who works for the U.S. Postal Service. They have a son, Avery, 20.

Jenine has been with the Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics for 2 1/2 years. Her office is at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which formed the center with Harvard College Observatory.

"You've got the 'Big Bang Theory' going on over here triple time," she said.

Her events cover topics ranging from "life in the cosmos" to "single-dish and very-long-based interferometry observations with the new Greenland Telescope."

Jenine has learned a lot about astrophysics but accepts the fact she's never going to understand everything on the agenda.

"When I'm sitting in on meetings and it gets to be too much for my brain, I leave," she said.

The former Jenine Bynum graduated in 1980 from Assumption Catholic High School. She later moved from Illinois to Arizona to Kentucky to Massachusetts.

Jenine was working as a file clerk for an insurance company when her mother and sister were killed.

"They said it was a robbery, but I just have trouble with the fact that that there were so many unanswered questions," she said. "This happened in broad daylight. My mother was almost decapitated. My sister was stabbed over 70 times. How could this happen and no one saw a thing?"

Eventually, Jenine got her life back. She earned a business degree at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts in 1996 and worked in corporate travel and conference planning before getting her current job.

Jenine still has family in the area, including grandmother Daisy Hicks and sister Yolanda Bynum, of East St. Louis, and brother Charles Bynum III, of Belleville. She gives at least partial credit to teachers and other caregivers for her perseverance in the face of adversity.

"They made us feel loved and special and important," she said. "They made us feel like we could do anything we wanted to do."

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