Young, Gifted and Black

atching up with some of metro Detroit’s highest-achieving seniors was an unbelievable challenge. After all, they’re not only busy with final exams, proms and after-school jobs; they’re also juggling academic clubs, music lessons, sports and, of course, being Snapchat- and Spotify-savvy teenagers in 2016.

Putting the spotlight on these top grads, however, shows exactly how today’s youth can make us proud. Ignoring what many students in metro Detroit face every day would be a disservice-but so, too, would be not recognizing what they’re capable of. It’s time now, more than ever, to tip our hats to these young phenoms.

Kayla Byrd

Renaissance High School

Pauni Chapman

Denby High School

Daija Fields

Osborn Evergreen Academy 


Hometown: Detroit

Future plans: “I plan on attending the University of Michigan to study engineering. I'd like to pursue a career in civil or mechanical engineering.”

Word of advice: “Take your time and dream big. The last year goes by so fast-always be ready for the next step, and look forward to your future.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “I plan to attend Western Michigan University in the fall. I plan to eventually work for Apple or Google in information technology.”

Word of advice: “Please be vocal and social, and work your absolute hardest in high school in order to get the best results. Be everything you can be.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “To attend Oakland University to earn a degree in education focusing on elementary mathematics. I plan to become an elementary mathematics teacher.”

Word of Advice: “Never give up, stay focused and always believe that you can and will succeed.”

Kamar Graves

Fredrick Douglass Academy for Young Men

Hometown: Detroit

ouglass senior Kamar Graves has kept busy with football, basketball, track and field and baseball. But it’s his smarts off the fields and court that are taking him to Michigan State University with a full academic scholarship in hand.

“It does shock a lot of people,” says Graves, who will be studying business and finance in East Lansing. “It feels good to be able to say it.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, he readily admits. “My family didn’t have much to offer me, but I had a lot of people around me-mentors-that were dedicated to me doing the right things,” Graves says.

Graves has his eyes trained on a CEO position in the future, whether becoming an entrepreneur on his own or heading an established company. “Motivation is what kept me going.”

But while he matriculates at MSU, he offers the following to rising seniors. “Stay focused,” he says. “Apply to colleges and trade schools early, apply for several scholarships and graduate with high endeavors.”

Diante Hill

Romulus High School

Morgan Hill

Southfield-Lathrup High School

Janeia Jones

Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody

Hometown: Romulus

Future Plans: “I plan to attend the University of Michigan and major in mechanical engineering. I’d like to enter the field as a mechanical engineer, ideally in the energy field.”

Word of Advice: “Stay focused on your goals in spite of all obstacles and distractions.”

Hometown: Southfield

Future Plans: “I will be attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I plan to become an OB-GYN with my own practice.”

Word of Advice: “It’s OK to enjoy senior year and have fun, but don’t think of this as the time to skip class and fall behind just because your friends are.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “I will be attending Michigan State University to study biomedical sciences. I will become a pediatric surgeon”

Word of Advice: “Stay focused and determined and never lose sight of your goals. You can be anything you set your heart out to be.”

Savannah Fisher

Detroit School of the Arts

Hometown: Detroit

avannah Fisher dreams of one day performing on Broadway.

“I just love that I can express myself through music and I can reach other people every time I sing a song,” Fisher says. “I love the rush that I get while you’re standing, waiting for the curtains to go up. It’s just really exciting.”

Her love of performing is evident. She is an active member of four choirs at Detroit School of Arts, has been dancing at a recreation center in Sterling Heights since she was 6 and has performed in four shows for Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theatre in Royal Oak.

After auditioning for about 10 colleges, she found her home in Western Michigan University’s Musical Theatre Performance program. Fisher was one of 15 students selected into the program out of nearly 600 who auditioned from across the country.

“I think that Western is the best place for me because it’s close to home, but it’s also far enough,” Fisher says. “Since there’s a small amount of people in the program, I feel like I’ll get the most attention at Western and will be able to grow.”

JayMarie King

Southestern High School

Ryan Lowery

Crescent Academy High School

Cierra McClendon

Osborn College Preparatory Academy

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “To become a computer engineer. I would also love to play saxophone for organizations, bands, studios and more.”

Word of Advice: “Being a senior is fun and exciting, but it is also very overwhelming. Don’t give up, get lazy or start procrastinating. When you set important things aside, you’re setting aside a successful future.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “I plan on attending Bowling Green State University (in Ohio), majoring in business. I plan to own my own finance company in downtown Detroit.”

Word of Advice: “It doesn’t matter what others do or think of you. It will always be cool to be the smartest guy in the room.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “I plan to attend Central State University and major in computer engineering. I would like to help the community, giving back to young girls to encourage them to love STEM fields.”

Word of Advice: “Keep outshining the competition, never give up on your dreams and don’t slack off during your senior year.”

Tariq Muhammad

Detroit Edison Public School Academy Early College of Excellence

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas

here’s a saying that Tariq Muhammad, who graduates from DEPSA and will head to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study human biology at Harvard University, lives by that has to do with bathrooms.

“When you leave, you have to leave the place cleaned up for the person that’s coming in next,” he says.

It makes sense when you think about it. But that’s not the only thing on Muhammad’s mind these days. He’s focused on becoming an OB-GYN, with plans of going immediately to med school-maybe Harvard again, or perhaps Oxford-after he finishes undergrad.

It’s all about leaving a better world for the next generation. “Unless you’re helping somebody, you’re not contributing much to society,” Muhammad says.

The ideals of giving back were instilled in him by his family, particularly his mother. “She has stayed with me through tough times,” he says about his academic journey.

Plenty of notable Black graduates-hello, Obamas-have passed through the hallowed halls of Harvard, something Muhammad knows after having visited the campus. It’s the place where he knows he can continue his desire to help others.

“We’re all a part of a movement that’s making a better place,” he says.

Arleacia Parker

Mumford High School

Audrey Porter

Cody Academy of Public Leadership

Jharyn C. Price

River Rouge High School

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans: “I will continue my journey at Central Michigan University, majoring in pre-physical therapy. I plan on becoming a physical therapist.”

Word of Advice: “Stay strong mentally as you finish out your last year of high school. Senioritis is real but don’t let it get to you. Apply to a lot of colleges and even more scholarships, and most importantly have fun and enjoy.

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I will start college at Michigan State University in August, majoring in psychology. My future career goal is to become a clinical psychologist, and I would like to open my own practice open to all communities.”

Word of Advice: “Keep your head held high. You are going to get tired and may want to give up, but I assure you that hard work pays off.”

Hometown: River Rouge

Future Plans: “I plan on attending the University of Toledo where I will study chemical engineering. I hope to improve manufacturing processes so that they become more environmentally friendly.”

Advice for the next class: “Know yourself. College is not for everyone. There many other opportunities out there for you. There is no one set path in life. It’s up to you to find yours.”

Javonte Parker

Romulus High School

Hometown: Romulus

or most of his years in grade school, Javonte Parker has always been in a race to the top.

Parker graduates as salutatorian from Romulus High School this year, armed with the highest SAT score in his class and in the top percentile nationwide. He has a love of mathematics, though he admits that calculus is “no joke.”

But if there’s one thing he’s sure of, it’s his mission. A devout Jehovah’s Witness, Parker will head to Bethel, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York, to work at the facility, printing Bible-based literature and performing other witness work.

“We as a whole really try to live by what the Bible says,” Parker says of himself and his mother. “I just try my best to be peaceable.”

Parker’s conversation is infused with the principles of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses: faith, servitude, diligence. Living by the Word, he says, is what brought him this far.

Parker doesn’t plan on staying at Bethel for long, though. Eventually, he’d like to study architecture and one day design Kingdom Halls-the places of worship for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do these things,” he says.

Dayla Reed

Osborn Academy of Math, Science and Technology

Paige Sims

Renaissance High School

NaDayja Solomon

Central High School

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I plan to attend the University of Detroit Mercy and major in biomedical engineering. I plan to attend medical school to become an OB-GYN”

Word of Advice:“Don’t let anyone push you to do something that you don’t think you will be able to do for the rest of your life. Also don’t be afraid to outwork your opponent.”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I will be attending Michigan State University as a premedical student. This summer, I will be interning at Sinai-Grace Hospital through the DMC Project Genesis program.

Word of Advice: “Don't lose sight of your future goals. Turn your dreams into goals that have a plan of action. Stay focused on your future and adopt a strong work ethic."

Hometown: River Rouge

Future Plans: “In the fall, I plan on attending Grand Valley State University, majoring in film and video. I plan on being a director for movies and television shows.”

Advice for the next class: “Stay focused because senior year is not just about fun. If you don't put in the work, you don't pass. Take advantage of any college help you get and never give up on scholarships.”

Faith Steppes 

Cornerstone Health & Technology High School

Hometown: Detroit

verything changed for Faith Steppes when she started participating in pageants. She’s done a handful of them, and Steppes says they helped boost her confidence tremendously.

“When I first started pageants, I didn’t really think that I was beautiful. I thought that I wasn’t able to voice my opinion, and I didn’t think that my opinion really mattered,” Steppes says. “When you do pageants, you have to voice your opinion because you’re trying to represent your city. I’ve become a stronger person because of them.”

As the class of 2016 valedictorian at Cornerstone Health & Technology High School, Steppes has spent her fair share of time hitting the books, spending around four to five hours studying and doing homework each day. But when she’s not doing schoolwork, she enjoys going to church, dancing and spending time with her friends and family. She participated on her high school’s cheerleading and track teams, sang in the choir and was a member of the National Honor Society.

Steppes will be tackling her college prerequisites at Henry Ford College in the fall, and plans to transfer to Oakland University or Central Michigan University.

Her goal is to be an OB-GYN or a specialized neonatal intensive nurse, a dream she realized after shadowing an OB-GYN in high school.

“I like that you can help individuals and that you have a more connected relationship with your patients when you’re a nurse,” Steppes says.

K'von Thomas

West Side Academy of Leadership and Development

Nakole Turner

Southfield High School

Deshon Watt

Oak Park High School

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I plan to attend Wayne County Community College District or Henry Ford College. I plan to pursue a career in skilled trades that will allow me to explore my creative side and earn money while doing so.”

Word of Advice:“Don’t be discouraged by anything or anyone! If you already know you have the ability to achieve all your dreams, focus on doing your very best. The rest will fall into place.”

Hometown: Southfield

Future Plans:“I plan to attend Tennessee State University. Right now, I would like to major in accounting. After, I would like to find a job as a tax accountant. Hopefully I can start my own tax-filing business.”

Word of Advice: “Enjoy the rest of high school while you can! Living the college life may seem fun, but there’s a lot of responsibility, as far as making sure you’re staying on task because there won’t be anyone to watch over you.”

Hometown: Oak Park

Future Plans:“My plans are to begin the Summer Bridge Program at the University of Michigan before I start my fall semester there. My plan is to become a psychiatrist and open up my own treatment facility.”

Advice for the next class: “The best advice that I can give is to stay focused and never doubt yourself. Believing in yourself and keeping your mind on whatever goals that you have set is the key, to me, for accomplishing anything.”

Geaundra Weatherspoon

Communication and Media Arts High School

Alia Wood

Renaissance High School

Cessilie Wright

Bradford Academy

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I plan to attend University of West Georgia. I plan to go into criminology or journalism. I want to work in the field of forensics or become a journalist because those fields have always been an interest of mine.”

Word of Advice:“Follow your own intuition and let no one discourage you from reaching your goals in life.”

Hometown: Warren

Future Plans:“I plan to attend Princeton University in the fall. I have yet to decide what I want to study, but as of now it is between a field in engineering or something that involves English.”

Word of Advice: “Always be true to yourself, persevere and have faith, because with those tools and with such a mindset you are always sure to succeed. Carpe diem!”

Hometown: Detroit

Future Plans:“I will be attending the University of Detroit Mercy majoring in medicine. My future career plan is to specialize in the pediatric field, changing the lives of the youth.”

Advice for the next class: “‘Be the change you want to see, and never let fear be the reason you pass up an opportunity.”

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