Intriguing Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 13 Year Old Morehouse StudentBook-09-june.gif (13537 bytes)

 

 As a 13-year-old, Lithonia resident Stephen Stafford II can usually be found sitting in front of the television playing video games or playing his drum set. But Stafford is no typical 13-year old – he’s a college student. The triple-major child prodigy is becoming a sensation at Morehouse College .

“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.”
“When I saw how much knowledge Stephen has at such a young age, I wondered what I had been doing with my life,” laughed third-year student, Eric Crawford. A psychology major and computer science minor, Crawford wanted to step up his game so much that he got Stephen to tutor him. “Even though I’m older, Stephen is like a mentor and my elder in computer science,” said Crawford.
Even at age 11 when Stafford started at Morehouse, he got the highest score in his pre-calculus class. “He breezes through whatever I throw at him. If it’s an hour lab, he can do it in 20 or 30 minutes,” said Dennis.
Stafford said he isn’t nervous about studying with students much older than himself. “I just do what I always did. I show up, I do the work, and I go home,” he said.
Stafford ’s mother, Michelle Brown-Stafford, home-schooled both her children (Stephen has an older sister also in college) and believes that parental involvement is essential for students to excel. But when she realized her son was starting to teach her instead of being taught, she knew he needed to be in a college environment.
“It was surreal because on one hand he’s talking about technical things I didn’t even understand, and on the other hand he was asking me to come watch Sponge Bob with him. So it was bittersweet to let him go.”
Brown-Stafford wondered if there were other parents who shared her experiences with a gifted child, so she helped found a support group.
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And the Morehouse family has become a support group for Stafford , personifying the African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. Stafford is too young to stay on campus, so his mother picks him up and drops him off each day. The students protect him and make a point not to curse or discuss certain mature issues around him, according to his mother and Stafford . Even the staff of Jazzman’s Café, where Stafford tutors Crawford, helps nurture Stephen into becoming a “Morehouse Renaissance Man”–well-spoken, well-dressed, well-read, well-traveled, and well-balanced.The cafe’s general Manager, Darren Page, added an unofficial principle: well-fed. “A Morehouse Man cannot study on an empty stomach,” said Page. So whenever Stafford comes to Jazzman’s, Page gives up his own employee meal for the 13-year-old.It seems that everyone wants to be a part of helping Stafford graduate in 2012, and go on to Morehouse School of Medicine. And because of a Georgia law that requires a student to be 16 to graduate high school, he’ll be getting his high school diploma the same year he receives his college degrees in math, computer science and pre-med.“Kids will live up to your expectations. But I ultimately want Stephen to be happy,” said Stephen Stafford Sr. Brown-Stafford added, “I want him to be well-rounded and still connect with kids his own age, so we put him in DeKalb County’s 4-H Club and other programs.” She added that she’s thankful to the Morehouse family for embracing her son.“I want to see what Stephen becomes 10 years from now,” said Crawford. Page added, “I want to be at his graduation. And then I want to walk by and touch the [campus] statue of Dr. Martin Luther King and recognize I had a role in [Stephen] walking in Martin Luther King’s footsteps.” And how fitting, since Dr. King entered Morehouse at age 15.So to put a spin on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Stephen is being judged by the content of his character, not by his age.

 

 

 

 

Brianna Karp

 

 Brianna Karp tells the story of how she got

off the streets in "The Girl's Guide to

Homelessness."

Credit: Harlequin


 Brianna Karp thought she had it all together. At 23, the Orange
 
County, Calif., executive assistant was employed, making
 
$50,000 a year, and living in a cozy cottage with her mastiff,
 
Fezzik.

But she would soon face a downward spiral.


"I was laid off in July 2008, along with over half of my
 
company," Karp tells ParentDish. "For the next six months, I
 
struggled to stay afloat on unemployment, which didn't cover
 
rent and food. I searched for work every day; I signed up with
 
several temp agencies and took as many opportunities as I could.
 
This was at the peak of the recession, and nobody was hiring."


No longer able to pay her rent, Karp says she attempted a
 
short-term stay with her mother and stepfather, "which really
 
was a last resort, as there's a very toxic history there."

She soon found herself without a home.

ParentDish recently caught up with Karp, now 26, about the
 
book, advice she can offer young people facing homelessness
 
and how she was able to not only land on both feet, but land a
 
book deal, as well. An edited version of the interview follows.

ParentDish: Where did you end up staying, after leaving
 
your mother's house?

Brianna Karp: I ended up living in my deceased biological
 
father's camper in the middle of a Walmart parking lot -- taking
 
advantage of their policy allowing travelers and campers to stay
 
overnight on their lots for free. It wasn't fun, but you do what
 
you have to in order to sort of eke out an existence and try to
 
find a sustainable routine.

PD: You had no electricity or running water.

BK: I showered at a nearby mom-and-pop gym where I
 
purchased a membership for $9.99 a month. If I needed to use a
 
restroom in the middle of the night, there was a 24-hour gas
 
station on the same block. I'd learned from a book I'd read years
 
before that you can boil water on a car radiator to cook food. I
 
purchased a large high-powered flashlight that I shone at the
 
ceiling of the trailer at night, and it would give me enough light
 
to read by.


Credit: Harlequin

There were many other homeless people staying on the lot in
 
campers and cars: a married couple in their 60s, a former doctor,
 
a man who spoke four languages. I was by far the youngest.
 
Many of them had lost their jobs and homes in the recession, as
 
well.

PD: What was a typical day like?

BK: During the day I'd usually sit in Starbucks with my laptop
 
and send out résumé after résumé. I also started an anonymous
 
blog, which was how I began meeting other homeless and
 
formerly homeless people and activists. It had never occurred to
 
me that there would be such a vast, global online network of
 
homeless people.

PD: The idea of a homeless girl with a laptop and cell phone
 
is a new one. How is job hunting different when you're
 
homeless?

BK: Everyday life has become so technology-driven that things
 
like a cell phone and Internet access are essential. Yet, people
 
are still amazed to see homeless people utilizing resources, or
 
conclude that they must not "really" be homeless. Why should a
 
person entering a crisis like homelessness be expected to give up
 
items they may already own, like a cell phone or laptop, which
 
may be their most valuable tools for finding work and digging
 
their way out? Without a laptop or cell phone, I would be
 
without means of accessing job boards in the most efficient
 
manner possible, of sending out résumés and being contacted by
 
potential employers.

Another thing that many are unaware of is that there are
 
government programs providing homeless people with voice
 
mail boxes, cell phones and even used laptops. Often, homeless
 
individuals use public libraries to access the Internet. These
 
tools are invaluable and critical in today's society, and they also
 
allow homeless people a means by which to share their
 
experiences, stories and offer one another moral support or
 
solutions even from long distances apart.

PD: What did you learn about other homeless people from
 
your experience?

BK: It was a topic I'd never really thought about until it
 
happened to me, as I suspect is usually the case for most people.
 
It did force me to take a look at the personalities and stories
 
behind the labels and stereotypes. What I found is that these are
 
really just people, and that there is no basis for the automatic
 
presuppositions that I hear over and over: "Homeless people are
 
all druggies/mentally ill/dirty/lazy/unloved."

I found a warm, supportive network of people that did their best
 
to help one another out, even if all they had to offer was
 
encouragement despite their personal circumstances. In my
 
experience, I've found that there's as many reasons and causes
 
behind homelessness as there are homeless people. No one
 
should be pigeonholed. I believe all homeless people need help.
 
Shelter is a basic human need and right, as far as I'm concerned.

PD: Talk about how your religious upbringing and your
 
mother have affected your life.

BK: I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. I knew early on that I
 
didn't believe what the other Jehovah's Witnesses did, and I also
 
knew that would affect the relationship with my mother. ... My
 
mother has a reputation as a very difficult person and was highly
 
physically and verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative ...
 
which I talk more about in the book. Together, they really made
 
it a very claustrophobic environment to grow up in. It's taken
 
some time, out on my own, to figure out how the outside world
 
and normal human interaction works and it's an ongoing
 
process.

PD: Through your blog you connected with Elle magazine
 
columnist E Jean Carroll.

 
BK: I had been reading her column for about nine years, and, on
 
a complete whim, I wrote her a letter explaining my situation
 
and asking for advice. I never expected to hear back and
 
promptly forgot all about it. Several months later, my letter was
 
not only published in her advice column in Elle magazine, but
 
she offered me a three-month, telecommuting internship.


 The story ballooned in the media and was picked up all over the
 
world. Suddenly, I found myself in newspapers and on CNN and
 
the "Today Show." It was all very overwhelming, but definitely
 
exciting and quite a thrill. E. Jean is absolutely one of the
 
warmest, most generous human beings I have ever met, and I'm
 
so grateful for the opportunity she gave me and the doors that it
 
ended up opening.

PD: Do you have full-time work now?

 
BK: A few months ago, I received a call for an interview at
 
South Coast Repertory, a local theatre in Orange County,
 
looking for a marketing assistant. I had applied there, along with
 
hundreds of other assistant jobs in Orange, Riverside and L.A.
 
counties. The interview went great and I landed the job!

I love the company, the people and the culture at the theater. I
 
commute 80 miles round-trip per day, which is about three hours
 
total in traffic. I'm picking up a lot of valuable new skills to add
 
to my repertoire. As it's nonprofit work and wages are not what
 
they used to be, I live paycheck-to-paycheck, like most people
 
these days.

PD: And benefits?

 
BK: It's the first time since becoming homeless that I've had
 
health and dental benefits. It's taken two years of job searching
 
to reach this point. I tried to keep my residence status and the
 
media attention on the DL at work, but Google never forgets, so
 
pretty soon everybody at work knew about it. My co-workers
 
and bosses have actually been so nonjudgmental and supportive.
 
I feel so incredibly lucky and privileged to work here.

PD: What advice do you have for young people who may
 
find themselves homeless?

 
BK: As "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" would put it,
 
don't panic. Be as savvy as you can with the resources you have
 
available to you. Technology and social media are your friends,
 
so use them. With them, a world's entire wealth of information is
 
at your fingertips.

Online, you can search for jobs, stock up on survival tips, reach
 
out to others who've been there and might be able to point you
 
towards available resources or programs that can help you.
 
There is an entire community to help you through what you're
 
experiencing. And, of course, take care of yourself and your
 
mind. You are your own most valuable resource right now.

 

  



 

 

 

 

 

 

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