By Charles Hallman
Stephen Stafford is a junior at Morehouse College, a Historically Black College in Atlanta, Georgia. Brandon Hill, a senior at Eden Prairie High School, has been accepted to nine universities, including Minnesota, Harvard and Howard. Both young men told a group of Minneapolis high school students that it’s perfectly fine to be young, smart and Black.
Stafford and Hill talked about their academic successes and answered audience questions during a college fair at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College April 20.
The Detroit-born Stafford began college at age 14. When he was two years old, his then-six-year-old sister taught him basic math as the two siblings played “school.” Soon, Stafford became proficient at algebra at age six, geometry at age seven and advanced algebra at age nine.
When asked how is it to be in college when most at his age still are in high school, “It’s pretty normal,” he said. “It’s like going to middle school, but the kids are older.”
Hill told the audience that Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president “had a profound impact on me,” adding that his high school academic career started off slowly prior to that. “After that, I promised myself to get nothing but A’s,” he said proudly.
Hill co-founded the Brotherhood organization, a teen mentoring program in 2008 to help break down stereotypes and increase academic achievement among Blacks like himself at a predominately White school.
“What we wanted for Brandon is, first and foremost, put God first,” said his mother, Tori Richardson-Hill, “to know the difference between right and wrong, to chart his own course, to think about what you want your legacy to be, and to know what excellence is.”
Stafford says he’s just a kid — his long-range goals include getting his doctorate in computer science by age 20. “I don’t think I’ve done anything [special],” he pointed out. “I’ve done what my parents want me to do. But I have big plans later.”
“Even though he has the intellectual prowess, he is still a young Black male and needs to be in a supportive environment. We figured that Morehouse being an all-Black male college, it would provide that for him,” recalled his mother, Michelle Brown Stafford.
Cub Foods President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Wyche also spoke to the student audience. Before being named to his present position in 2010, Wyche was president of U.S. operations for Pitney Bowes Management Services.
“I wasn’t a good student,” noted Wyche, adding that he eventually learned the importance of getting an education and earned a college degree. “Being a boss is not easy,” he explained. “There are a lot of people reporting to me and looking at me every day.”
Later, he added, “The spotlight is on you, and if you are a minority and the boss, it’s twice the spotlight. So you have to make sure that you are on point and that you do twice as well to stay ahead.”
The MSR spoke to all three afterward.
Stafford downplayed his prodigy status. “I go to Morehouse then come home. It’s just school. I’m a kid, have parents and chores to do at home.” He added that making the adjustment “was a slow-moving change, from being home-schooled to being in college.”
Hill said, “You don’t really have a large support of African Americans or minority network as you would have at Henry, South or St. Paul Central. My biggest challenge was coming to Eden Prairie and developing my own image — being Black but also being able to network with other different people.”
He wanted the students to understand that they “need a set dream, work toward that dream, and don’t let anybody take you off it. And once you become successful, you need to reach back and help others.”
“They are at that critical time in their life, between [ages] 16-24, where what they do with their time — either they will invested it for the rest of their lives or they will squander it and spend the rest of their lives trying to catch up, if they catch up,” surmised Wyche. “The key message…is to take the time and invest in yourself and get that education because it will pay dividends the rest of your life.”
Michelle Stafford strongly suggests to parents that their child or children also can be prodigies. “There are so many things you can do with your child when they are very young. Teachers do the best they can, but they don’t know your child — you know your child better than anyone else. A lot of learning takes place outside of the classroom.
“Once you start doing it, and you see your child’s brilliance, you do not need anybody’s permission to continue to develop who they are.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com