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Role models

April 21, 2010

Marcus Singletary wasn’t supposed to make it.

Named “Mr. Athletic” at his large high school in Georgia, his college entrance exam score was “beyond low” and he had failed a science graduation requirement.

"I'm about to graduate from a top school," Marcus Singletary told 6th graders in St. Paul. "And that from a kid they said wouldn't make it."

But he dreamed of attending a big university, and a coach had told him that he could get a scholarship as a football player. With little assistance, Singletary applied to schools around the country and accepted the offer from a community college on the Minnesota-Canada border. There was no scholarship.

There was no scholarship at the University of Minnesota, either, where Singletary transferred in 2007. He also had to sit out the first football season in order to meet NCAA academic credit requirements. “Of course I wanted to play right away, but you have to earn your stripes,” said Singletary in an interview earlier this year. “Nothing in this world is given to you. You’re going to have to prove yourself. As a walk-on [non-scholarship player], you have to be hungrier than everyone else. When that time comes and you get in the game, you have to make the most of it. You can never let your head down and must constantly have that attitude.”

It’s no accident if you read those words and think Singletary sounds like a motivational speaker.  While he hopes to stay connected to athletics through his job working for Nike, more than anything he’d like to inspire others, particularly young African-Americans, to achieve their personal best.

Last week, he shared his story with 30 6th graders at Maxfield Magnet School, an inner city elementary school in St. Paul where the students are predominantly African-American and many come from families living in poverty.

“Can I have your autograph?”

The sixth graders asked Singletary about his favorite color and favorite rapper, and how many schools he’d attended growing up with his father in the military. Singletary also answered questions that reflect the students’ struggles and the futures they’re dreaming of:  did you have a lot of friends in school? did you have to deal with bullies? how do you handle anger? are your mom and dad together? who were your role models? what do you have to do to go to college? what is college like?

At the end of the 45-minute discussion, Singletary spoke one-on-one with students and signed autographs.

Doing education differently

Maxfield School has struggled to meet state and federal achievement standards. In January, Nancy Stachel was brought in as the new principal after serving as the district’s chief of schools. She wants to create an environment where kids can be powerful and see college as a realistic and worthwhile goal.

With the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Stachel  is exploring making Public Achievement part of the school day for next year’s fifth and sixth graders and bringing in college students as coaches.

She’s also engaged in conversations with the center and others about creating learning campuses in St. Paul—geographic zones in which schools, community-based organizations, parks and recreation, and libraries are connected in a way that will maximize access to quality learning opportunities and help all kids be successful. At Maxfield, those community connections could mean more student interaction with role models like Singletary.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2010 8:20 am

    Great posting about Marcus. I had the privilege of sitting in on a class when Marcus was speaking: he is a powerful and passionate presence. The Maxfield students must have enjoyed their time with him. I wish Marcus the very, very best.


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