Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
He is an accomplished pianist and started learning when he was 2-years-old. His sister, then 6, often liked to play school. According to Thomas Wheatley in a January 22, 2010 writing, she actually taught him what she learned in school:
“She was teaching me how to count; how to add. And I caught on to that. And then my mom started teaching me. And when I started kindergarten, I was doing multiplication. And my mother said the other stuff was too easy. I was board.
As is the case in traditional kindergarten schooling arenas, he was exposed to a rote teaching method – the fixed, habitual, mechanical, and repetitive banking method of instruction.
“Generally, when I understand something, we move on. With repetition, I’m like, ‘Why are we doing this when I already know it?” he says as cited in the Wheatley account. His mother, Michelle Brown- Stafford, decided on home schooling. Writes Waveney Ann Moore in the June 1, 2010 issue of the St. Pittsburg Times, his mother commented that she and her husband had to keep track of him, “because he is an African American male, and we didn’t want to lose him and we didn’t want him to become a statistic.”
At 9, notes Moore, he had begun to “outpace his mother’s homeschooling abilities in math and science and was studying literature from college textbooks.” At the age of 11, his mother was challenged with teaching algebra II. His parents then decided to send him to Morehouse College to audit mathematics and to “test his intellectual prowess” as noted in a February 5, 2010 “bydesign001” posting. Writes Wheatley:
“So I went to Morehouse. I didn’t know what the big deal was about going to Morehouse. I just knew it was the next step in my education, and I’m gonna’ do what my mother tells me to do.”
In his first class, college algebra, he scored 105. His next course was pre-calculus where his grade was 99.
“And that was pretty much the test for whether I could stay at Morehouse. And considering the grades I got there, we decided I’d stay.
He is young, he is gifted, and he is Black. At 13-yearsold, Stephen R. Stafford II had a triple major in pre-med, math and computer science in his sophomore year. Upon completion of his undergrad requirements, his plans include entering the Morehouse School of Medicine to focus on obstetrics and specialize in infertility
“I want to help babies come into the world. I’d also like to develop my own computer operating system,” as quoted in Wheatley.
“I’ve never taught a student as young as Stephen, and it’s been amazing,” says Morehouse computer science professor Sonya Dennis in a Boyce Watkins’ January 13, 2010 article “Morehouse Whiz Kid is Causing a Stir.” Dennis adds that Stephen is “motivating other students to do better and makes them want to step up their game.”
In his own comments, Dr. Watkins, founder of YourBlack- World.Net, says that Stafford “in my opinion, represents exactly what Black men are about: intelligence, ambition and high academic achievement.” He adds that this observation “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
Watkins shares that as a community, “We must applaud and uphold this young men. 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.
Stephen has been interviewed, records Moore, by CNN, received calls from Oprah and Katie Courie, and was a guest on the Tyra Banks show. The Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing his achievements and he was offered a job by a well renowned software company which he respectfully declined.
He was invited to speak at the NAACP’s 77th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet in St. Petersburg, Florida on June 12, 2010 and this past February 18, he was honored with the Youth Academic Award at the 100 Black Men 7th Annual Youth Summit 2012 in Decatur, Georgia.
In a Youth Summit event descriptor, it is noted that “Far too many of our children believe the only way to achieve the American dream of wealth and security requires one to have a wicked crossover dribble and jump shot, mad rapping skills or the attitude of a street hustler. While most aspire to be rich, missing are the role models to emulate, practical insight and strategies to making our dreams come true.”
Kalin Thomas’ December 24, 2009 writing “13-year-old student wows Morehouse,” reveals that the Morehouse family “has become a support group for Stafford.” He is too young to stay on campus, so his mother picks him up and drops him off each day
The students, according to Thomas, “protect him” and make a point not to curse or discuss certain “mature issues” around him. Even the staff at Jazzman’s Café’ where Stafford can be found tutoring a fellow student “helps nurture Stephen into becoming a ‘Morehouse Renaissance Man’ – well-spoken, well dressed, well-read, well-traveled, and well-balanced.
The café’s General Manager, Darren Page, notes the writer, adds an “unofficial principle: “well-fed”. Says Page, “A Morehouse Man cannot study on an empty stomach.” So whenever Stafford comes to Jazzman’s, Page gives up his own employee meal for the then 13-year-old.
Stephen is now 15 as recorded on his Facebook page. He remarks in a related point regarding today’s students in the Wheatley writing that the problem “with a lot of kids in school is that they have the capacity for learning, but if they’re not challenged, they lose interest.”
He positions that young people his age and younger “have the most interest in school because they haven’t lost their passion for it yet.” The Morehouse junior contends that “Ninety-nine percent of kids start out liking school. But then when they don’t get challenged enough, they get board. Some high school and middle school kids, they lost it. But in elementary school, they still like it.”
When asked in the Wheatley feature if he had any role models, Stephen remarks;
“Do I have any heroes? I’m not trying to sound arrogant. But me, I look back and see all the stuff I’ve done. I know, yes, I’ve done a lot. But I can do a whole lot more. I want to live up to my potential. Potential doesn’t have a limit. It’s like a rainbow. You can constantly keep chasing it and you will never get to it. And I know I don’t have any limits as long as I keep trying.”