At thirteen years of age, Stephen Stafford is causing quite a stir at Morehouse College. Stafford has a triple major in pre-med, math and computer science. Though he loves playing video games and playing his drum set, he is no typical teenager.
“I’ve never taught a student as young as Stephen, and it’s been amazing,” said computer science professor Sonya Dennis. “He’s motivating other students to do better and makes them want to step up their game.”
Stafford began his college career at the age of 11, after being home-schooled by his mother. Stafford’s mother said that when Stafford began to teach her instead of being taught by her, she knew he needed to be in a college environment.
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about. Stephen Stafford, in my opinion, represents exactly what black men are about: Intelligence, ambition and high academic achievement. This is not to disrespect men in other walks of life, but the truth is that you will never see Stephen Stafford’s accomplishments promoted like a rap music video.
We must, as a community, applaud and uphold this young man. We must cheer for him as if he averages 40 points a game. We should converse about his achievements as if he had released a platinum hip-hop album. He should get the same respect as every linebacker, point guard or hip-hop artist in America.
Corporate America will not blow Stephen’s trumpet, but I will. I also want all the other Stephen Staffords to make themselves seen. There are hundreds of thousands of Stephen Staffords out there who’ve been convinced by a culture of thuggery that they should do their best to hide their greatness. Rather than acing math class, they’ve been taught to measure grams and kilos or to memorize football playbooks that are 100 pages thick. Our young men can analyze the triangle offense in basketball and break down a nickel defense, but then become mentally deficient when it comes to doing algebra, science and social studies. The time for mediocrity is over, since education is the key to making your dreams come true. Sports only creates more nightmares for most of the young men who sacrifice their education in order to be athletes (even those who become professionals). This doesn’t mean that athletes don’t deserve our respect; instead, it means that we’ve got to learn to separate the hype from reality.
Stephen will make more money than nearly all of his athletic friends, because education produces economic empowerment. He will also have more personal freedom and professional fulfillment. He will live the American dream, and I encourage all of you to make your own sons into the next Stephen Stafford.
The recipe for our kids is simple:
1) Spend as much time studying as you spend playing sports or working at fast food restaurant jobs. If a kid can work 8 hours for McDonalds, then he can study 4 hours a day in the library.
2) Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t achieve whatever you put your mind to. No one has the right to define you or your child. Because my grades were horrible in high school, I was told that I wasn’t smart enough to go to college and (like millions of black boys across America) recommended for special education. Later on, I became the only African American in the world to earn a PhD in Finance during the year 2002. I didn’t earn the degree because I was brilliant. I actually earned it because I finally realized that I had the ability and determination to make my dream into a reality.
Just by studying 4 to 5 hours per day (less than the number of hours they would put in to working a minimum wage job), almost any child in America can get a college degree and become a doctor, lawyer or whatever they want. If George Bush can go to Harvard, then every kid in America can graduate from college if they choose to do so. I’ve taught college for 16 years, and I can tell you that the term “college material” needs to be abolished. Every child is college material if they want to be. That’s the truth.