Young, gifted and Black


It’s recess at Meadowbrook Elementary School and a multitude of fifth graders crowd the tire swing, jungle gym and basketball hoop – laughing, playing and doing what typical 10-year-olds do. However, one of the fifth graders is not so typical. Justin Brown, son of Jeff Brown and Cassandra Ward Brown has displayed some rather remarkable talents and gifts in the areas of mathematics, engineering, writing, and art.

As a participant in the Bakken Museum engineering camp, Justin created an eco-friendly remote controlled car. He is one of a dozen youth featured in a poster at the Bakken Museum showcasing their eco-friendly inventions as part of the Electrifying Minnesota exhibit. In addition, Justin penned a poem, “I am the Shadow,” which was featured in the 2006-2007 Compas anthology Eyes Full of Sky. Minnesota based Compas focuses on arts awareness in schools and communities.

Justin’s parents have a lot to be proud and thankful for. They have the responsibility and distinct pleasure of helping to guide, shape and mold the bright future of a potential mathematician, engineer or twenty-first century rocket scientist.

Of his son, Brown said: “He may dream of being a professional basketball player, but if he does achieve that goal, he’ll do it with a PhD in physics, chemical engineering or medicine.”

But as talented as Justin is his way has not always been so smooth. Early pre-school and Kindergarten teachers thought he might have had a learning disability due to the fact that he often seemed distracted or even uninterested in whatever the subject matter may have been.

However from her own obviously extensive personal interactions with her son, Ward Brown knew Justin was extremely bright and probably just bored. Upon completion of comprehensive exams the only people who seemed surprised by the results were the proctors themselves.

Of his son, Brown said: “He may dream of being a professional basketball player, but if he does achieve that goal, he’ll do it with a PhD in physics, chemical engineering or medicine.”

In cases like Justin’s it is helpful to have the support of the local educational community. But obtaining that assistance can prove a difficult task, especially when super- intelligence is often misunderstood and many times goes unrecognized.

Luckily Justin’s first grade elementary school teacher noticed he was a little different from the rest of his students. She contacted programs for gifted youth at the University of Minnesota and Macalister College and convinced officials at both institutions to accept him in the Institute of Technology Center for Educational Programs (ITCEP) Saturday Enrichment Programs-for gifted youth.

These programs offer a variety of ways to study and introduce students to the community of mathematics. The academic year and summer programs offer and provide a supportive environment in which to explore challenging mathematics.

Each year about 500 students in grades 5-12 participate in ITCEP’s premier 24-year old program, The University of Minnesota’s Talented Youth Mathematics program. In addition about 450 students enroll each year in six Saturday morning enrichment programs for students in grades 3-12. Close to 200 students participate in summer enrichment type programs.

Statistics show drop-out rates for African Americans at an alarming rate of 45%. Much has been made of the failure to address the educational needs of African American youth. However, it is worth noting that many African American children, such as Justin, are excelling and moving towards becoming future history makers. This takes effort and support from parents, family, friends, community and schools. Justin’s family has created a set of expectations for him, and has created a framework for learning, including structured study time. “Usually we go to the homework first, and that really is the best way to obtain the kind of grades I have come to expect from Justin,” says Ward Brown.

Paul Edward Hamilton welcomes comments at