Patrick Henry valedictorian sets her own course rather than follow the crowd

Her example refutes stereotype of young Black women

By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


One has to wonder whence the next Michelle Obama will come. After all, it’s apt to be quite a while until we see another Black president — of either gender.

In the First Lady’s wake, though, the national climate is set for someone to ascend — along with fields that are such glamour magnets as sports, music and the movies — in areas like business, law, politics and more. While she enjoys her next few years of prominence before moving on to a career as considerably more than decoration on her famous husband’s arm (she did, remember, graduate Princeton University and Harvard Law School) today’s generation of young women are poised to prevail, enhancing the image of Black women.

Enter one such face of tomorrow, Maria Maddox, this year’s valedictorian at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis, bound in the fall for the rarefied, Ivy League clime of Brown University. Preparation, it’s said, is all. Pursuant to which, she studied in a program provided by the International Baccalaureate, an educational nonprofit offering academic support to upwards of a million students, ages three through 19, in almost 150 countries and more than 3,600 schools. During high school, she was nothing if not well rounded.

The young Ms. Maddox, in case you’re wondering, isn’t some bookish, academic recluse who achieves her scholarly standing by sacrificing the enjoyment of having a life. This summer, she spends two months worth of mornings being quite the

Maria Maddox Photo by Charles Hallman
Maria Maddox
Photo by Charles Hallman

diligently responsible intern at Coloplast, four weeks in engineering (a prospective profession), in research and development.

“I help the engineers keep track of the products they are making and record that data, since they are working on a project right now.” Afternoons, though, she takes time out to be a teenager. “Of course. It’s summer break,” she says with bright smile.

“When I hang out with my friends we just do regular stuff like going to the mall or the movies. Maybe sing some karaoke. I don’t play basketball anymore. I stopped in about seventh grade, but I do like to play soccer with friends. Sometimes we’ll go to an open field and play.”

Engineering is a distinct possibility as a career choice, especially since her parents are in the field and it’s hard not to be accordingly influenced. However, neither Mom nor Dad has gone so far as to steer Maddox in that direction. And at 18, she’s sensibly keeping her options open.

An attractive aspect to attending Brown, aside from initially being awed by the gorgeous campus grounds, is “[how] they do their classes. You can make your own schedule. I also really like the arts. If I wanted to take a theater class, I could.” Freshman year, of course, is the time to, if you’re so inclined, dabble before committing to a concentration.

It states the obvious to say hers is not the profile that first comes to mind in the face of a prevalent stereotype depicting urban, adolescent African American females as welfare-bound baby mamas headed — victims of substance abuse or not — toward a dead-end future.

You’d think that, at the very least, she’d succumb to the typical silliness of girls across the social spectrum, dolling up in skimpy clothes and being boy crazy. What happened with her? She hesitates before speaking.

“I really don’t know.” It wasn’t for lack of peer pressure. “I saw friends going that way, some who are really gifted. I saw what they were doing to have a good time and wanted to go along with it. It wasn’t for me. We’re not really friends anymore. I realized that was not what I wanted, doing what they did just to follow along with them.

“[Then] I started doing things I want to do,” she says. “Whoever comes to me, they’re my true friends.”

Healthy home guidance helped. Indeed, she states, “I would probably owe it to my family. Just kind of the way [my parents] raised me and my siblings. They always enforced how important education is.”

Which, she candidly allows, wasn’t always welcome. “Even during the summer, they would, like, make us do work for school. Force us to read and things like that. At the time, I hated it. But I love reading now. I’ve just really seen how far education can take you. I can choose.”

Along with household heads Mary and Edward Maddox, she benefits from the support of older siblings sister Camille and brother Kovan. Our First Lady’s examples aren’t lost on Maria Maddox: “It makes you see how much you can accomplish. Basic role models like Michelle Obama and other people, you just see, like, I do have the capability to achieve.”

She adds, “My mom has said how fortunate we are to have [educational] opportunities available to us people didn’t have in the past. I probably don’t fully understand exactly how much change has taken place.”

At her age, how could she? That she respects this, though, speaks volumes for her character. “For me, it feels wonderful.”

Asked about the apple falling close to the proverbial tree, Mary Maddox is, it goes without saying, proud of her daughter, though not inclined to take a great deal of credit for Maria’s success.

“I feel I was given really good clay and it was my job to just not mess it up. It feels fantastic that she came through me and came through our family.” Pressed, however, about America’s generally catastrophic state of the country’s Black teens, females in specific, she forthrightly comments, “You have to prepare them to be outsiders, to go their own path.

“In some ways, it’s shameful that you have to prepare them in that way,” she continues. “And let them know that you [sometimes] will feel like the oddball. You will feel like the weird girl, the one doing something different than the people you see around you.”

She goes on to underscore that “You’re on a different path than they are” and points up the fallacy of stereotypes that “[African American] girls do drugs, are promiscuous, [and] if you’re not acting like this, you’re not Black. I’ve always told her, ‘You are Black. Your father can’t get a cab. You are Black. We are Black.’”

Ultimately, Maria Maddox is a success story in the making. One, thankfully, of many more than we have ever seen before.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403. 


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