Chicago Teen Secures More Than $1M In Scholarships, Wants to Change Damaging Narrative About Black Boys

A Chicago teenager has racked up more than $1 million in academic scholarships from more than 30 colleges and universities.

High school senior Stephen Thomas said he hopes his success story inspires others and combats negative stereotypes about Black boys.

Chicago student Stephen Thomas has won more than $1 million in college scholarships. (Screenshot/NBC 5)

“When I am recognized, I won’t just have been another Black teen on the news for something bad like gang violence or me getting wrongfully shot,” Stephen told reporters. “I want people to look at me and be like ‘Wow, he’s really out there doing something that we really thought we couldn’t do just because of how he looked.”

The 17-year-old applied for as many scholarships as he could and took part in numerous clubs and organizations. He’s a straight-A student with a 4.47 GPA. Stephen attributes his success to his parents, mentors and friends who motivated him to continue when he felt discouraged or tired.

His mother, Ericka Thomas, is a teacher.

“No matter what life presents, you just go for it. You write your own story. We know there are narratives out here about our Black boys, but it is our responsibility to change that narrative,” she said.

Many of the colleges where Stephen can attend for free are in the Chicago area, including Loyola University Chicago, North Central College, Northern Illinois University and DePaul University. Stephen told Chicago 32 that he has his sights set on North Central College, and he wants to stay close to home.

His advice for other young students is not to be afraid to apply for even the smallest scholarship awards and to stay focused on school work, no matter what.

“As a student, just keep your head down, blinders on and think about the end goal. Whatever is going on in your life, it will pass – just make sure you’re keeping yourself first and keep doing what needs to be done,” Stephen said.

Staying in the practice of helping others, Stephen wants to be a psychologist.

“It’s not impossible. Again, I am just a kid from Chicago that put the work in and put the time in, and (hopefully) somebody else is seeing this, and they’re like ‘Wow, I can do it too,’ ” he said.

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