Last week we highlighted our Samaritans Feet Shoe Distribution, providing more than 300 youth with new socks, shoes and unconditional compassion. This week, extending our “youthful” theme, let us turn the spotlight on a high school student who has overcome tremendous adversity to become a local success story.
Stephani Brownlee grew up in a neighborhood of poverty here in Memphis. Sadly, drugs, negativity and high school dropouts were the influences taking over her surroundings. At age 5, she lost her mother, who prematurely passed away on the floor in front of her. Her grandmother then took Stephani and her brothers in but shortly after was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not wanting to lose her grandmother, Stephani personally took care of her and self-assigned all of the duties that her grandmother could not complete, like cooking, cleaning the house, cutting the grass and washing the clothes. All the while, Stephani worked as hard as she could in school, often thinking the effort might not be worth it.
School for Stephani was The Soulsville Charter School (TSCS), where she first enrolled at the sixth grade. Seeing friends and others in her neighborhood squander their opportunities, she was determined to work hard and persevere by giving it her all. She excelled in her academics and took the most rigorous courses, including all of the AP courses offered at TSCS.
She also found her calling with music. Playing the piano became more than a passion, it became her outlet and soul. In the ninth grade, she was accepted to the Stax Music Academy after-school program, where she first learned “how to play with and feed off of others.” She learned the important lesson that “if (she) stopped resisting help, (she) could become so much more.” She also took on the amazing challenge of composing for the orchestra. She spent three months writing a piece requiring seven instruments and more than 60 students. When she conducted her performance at the 2010 Soulsville Winter Concert, the audience was moved to tears.
As you can imagine, Stephani received high praise from her teachers, who helped mentor and guide her through the process of applying for the Questbridge National College Match Scholarship. Questbridge pairs low income students with high-end colleges and universities. Out of almost 10,000 applicants, she was one of only 383 students to receive their prestigious scholarship. Stephani has been awarded a $200,000 full-ride scholarship to Brown University.
Stephani’s story is an inspiration to all. She also offers sage advice in what she has learned: “a risk or opportunity is what you make of it and … there are aren’t any shortcuts on the road to success.”
Jeremy Park, director of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter (@lpbreakfastclub) and Facebook (facebook.com/lpbreakfastclub).