William Hill, 18, overcame childhood obstacles to earn a scholarship, become a mentor to kids and be named the Boys & Girls Club of America's Youth of the Year for Maryland.

Beating odds on road to success

July 06, 2005|By Grant Huang | Grant Huang,SUN STAFF

William Hill - an 18-year-old African-American, born in a poor part of town, raised by a single working mom - wants to be a millionaire by the age of 25. He also wants to attend the London School of Economics and become president of the Boys & Girls Club of America. But first he'll settle for winning the organization's National Youth of the Year Award.

Worth $15,000 in scholarship money, the award would make Hill the official teen spokesman for the organization. He also would have the opportunity to meet President Bush in the Oval Office, an honor bestowed upon the winner and four finalists.

"It's always been the tradition for the winner and finalists to meet with the sitting president," said Jan Still-Lindeman, a spokeswoman for the Boys & Girls Club of America. "Republican or Democrat, they always seem to love meeting these amazing youngsters."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Anne Arundel County section Wednesday incorrectly stated that William Hill, recipient of the state Youth of the Year Award, had been awarded a full-tuition scholarship by Howard University. In fact, the university has not offered Hill a scholarship. Hill has won five community scholarships and is continuing to pursue scholarships from Howard, as well as other sources.
The Sun regrets the error.

Hill, an Annapolis native, is well on his way to becoming one of those youngsters: He's a formidable Youth of the Year contender with an impressive list of achievements that belies his family's modest circumstances. He was first recognized by the program in 2002, when he was named the Anne Arundel County Youth of the Year. This summer, not only did he win that award again, but he was also named Maryland's State Youth of the Year.

His future didn't always look so bright. Hill's parents divorced when he was 3, leaving his mother juggling jobs while trying to raise him and his older brother. His father, a businessman who never graduated from high school, is not a subject he likes to dwell on, though Hill was quick to defend him.

"He's been a dad, to a certain extent, it's not like he was never in my life," he said. "He's someone who, despite his circumstances, became successful."

Hill sees himself fighting the same uphill battle for success that his father faced. Raised by a single parent, living a childhood of limited financial means, he struggled for years with a speech impediment that made him stutter constantly.

"People used to say, `You're not gonna be nobody -you can't even speak right,'" he said. But Hill persevered.

"He never used those things as an excuse to not achieve," said Reginald Broddie, executive director of the Anne Arundel and Annapolis Boys & Girls Club.

By the time Hill started high school, the stutter had disappeared and he went on to chair the school's Student Government Association while holding several student liaison roles on state-level committees and councils dealing with high school issues and state testing programs.

Hill credits the Anne Arundel and Annapolis Boys & Girls Club with getting him on the right track. He had attended the club's summer school programs since the age of 6.

"He always wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing," said Broddie, who has been with the local club for more than 17 years. "He'd be standing in line while other kids would be fooling around and cutting and what-not. He'd help us clean up after a mess - he played an adult's role."

As he grew older, Hill began to take an active leadership role in the club; he tutored younger children in the program and acted as a mentor to troubled youths. Today he's a college-bound high school graduate working three jobs, six days a week. His average work day starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. He also interns at the Maryland Hospice Board and is an active member of his church, often going straight to choir rehearsals after work. Somehow he still finds time to volunteer, not just at the Boys & Girls Club across the street from his family's home in Severn, but also at the Annapolis Boys & Girls Club, where he began his 12-year involvement with the organization.

"Some adults don't have any clue what it takes to be in his shoes," Broddie said. "He's one of those kids we look at as proof that the Boys & Girls Club approach undoubtedly works."

Hill praised the club staff as dedicated educators, saying his experiences working with Broddie and others helped him to see the necessity of education. According to experts, it's a necessity missing from the lives of too many young African-American boys.

"Prison time has become pervasive among young black men with little schooling," said Bruce Western, professor of sociology at Princeton University. "He is beating the statistics."

The statistics are grim: according to a study Western published with Becky Pettit for the University of Washington, nearly one in three young black men with only a high school education will serve time before turning 40. But Hill isn't like many young blacks his age; the fact that he's different is something even the children he tutors can easily see.

"He's nice and serious; he's more encouraging than other people," said Markell Johnson, one of the children attending the Annapolis club's summer school program. The 10-year-old giggled. "He's smart."

Smart enough to attract the attention of Howard University, which accepted his application past deadline and gave him a full-tuition scholarship to boot. Hill plans to attend the university this fall and major in accounting. He has seven years to reach his boldest goal, but he said that if he had $1 million today, he would give money to his church and, of course, the Boys & Girls Club. He would invest the rest, taking out only "a little bit" to live on.

"I'll have $1 million again," he said confidently.

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