Oakland senior's mark of success: top college admissions
When Akintunde Ahmad walked into the library at Oakland Technical High School to talk to Yale University recruiters making their annual East Bay stop in January, some of the other student hopefuls turned and stared.
With dreadlocks draping his shoulders, and his 6-foot-1 frame in the
sweatpants and T-shirt he had thrown on after baseball practice, it sure
may have seemed like this guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But 'Tunde, as he is called by friends and family, was right where he was supposed to be.
The 17-year-old Oak Tech senior received an acceptance letter from
Yale last week to prove it. He also has offers from Brown, Columbia,
Northwestern, the University of Southern California, UCLA, Howard, Chapman, Cal Poly and Cal State East Bay, and has been waitlisted by UC Berkeley and Georgetown.
"People looking at me funny is so common that it doesn't stick out
for me anymore," says Akintunde, who has a 5.0 GPA and scored 2100 (out
of 2400) on the SAT. "It's something that I've gotten used to."
Young and strong, athletic and African American, 'Tunde describes
himself like "any other street dude on 98th Avenue," the neighborhood
where he grew up and lives. Perhaps that's why he has often been
overlooked and underestimated - and left alone to quietly go about
"I'll leave this school and there will be teachers who never knew I was one of the people on the honor roll," he said.
He's met private-school students who've suggested that his
achievements are the result of easy classes and a low bar for academics
at public schools. He doesn't need to defend his GPA, or his appearance
on the honor roll for every semester that he's been in high school.
Instead he prefers comparing SAT and AP scores, and that usually shuts
'No private tutors'
"Oakland public schools all the way through," he says, jokingly
pounding a fist to his breast. "No private tutors or private schools.
This is strictly OUSD."
He's one of six children raised by his parents, Zarina and Mubarak Ahmad,
who are, dare I say it, a stereotypical American family. 'Tunde's
mother, Zarina, is an educator who began her career as an Oakland
schoolteacher. She is now the principal at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School. His father, Mubarak, has worked as a mechanic at AC Transit for 20 years.
The family practices the Rastafari religion - and it's why 'Tunde
wears dreads. He's never had a haircut in his life, Mubarak Ahmad said.
The family has worked hard to raise all their children right, instill in
them good values and encourage them to steer clear of trouble.
Like many responsible parents, they are willing to work for however
long it takes, sacrifice everything, to ensure their kids can enjoy a
better life than they have.
With 'Tunde, encouragement wasn't necessary, because he did things
without being asked, on his own initiative - a trait he has always had.
"I've never tried to cross any boundaries or anything like that,"
'Tunde said. "I'm just good at following directions, and no good ever
comes from challenging a Parental Unit."
Despite their best efforts, 'Tunde's parents were not able to steer
their older son, Azeem, away from the dangers awaiting a young African
American man on the streets of Oakland.
"I've always told my boys that it's very easy to get into trouble, but very hard to get out of it," Mubarak Ahmad said.
Mubarak Ahmad worried about Azeem. And silently, so did 'Tunde.
Mubarak warned Azeem that a person he was hanging out with would one day get him caught up in trouble, and sadly, he was right.
In 2012, Azeem was caught carrying guns to be used in an Oakland
stash house robbery that turned out to be a federal sting operation. He
was convicted on conspiracy charges and shipped off to a federal prison
in March 2013, sentenced to 41 months.
"We got the same mother, the same father, just a different path,"
'Tunde said. "I feel like it's a setback for him, but sometimes it takes
that kind of shock to grab your attention."
'Tunde's got an old man's brain working in a young man's body, and
while he may sound bookish, he's anything but one-dimensional.
He's a student-athlete who played basketball for three years - until
deciding to focus solely on baseball this year. He was the MVP of the Oakland Athletic League
baseball in 2013, hitting around .500 with 15 or so stolen bases. He
expects to play baseball where ever he goes to college next fall.
He's a member of the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, and plays trumpet, French horn and the djembe - a West African drum.
His work ethic is as much a part of him as an extremity, and his
commitment to his time-management regimen may have saved his life.
In January 2013, two months before his brother was incarcerated,
'Tunde declined an invitation from Azeem to hang out at a friend's house
because he had an essay due for school. At that house, five people were
shot, including his brother, who suffered two gunshot wounds.
"There's plenty of people I know who have been killed," he said. "I
could write a list starting in elementary school of all the people we
grew up with who have been killed."
"I could have easily been caught up in that life. You don't have to be a bad person to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Fortunately, 'Tunde has so far shown impeccable timing, both on the baseball field and in the classroom.
Besides playing some baseball, he plans to go into pre-med or pre-law.
"That's what I'm thinking, but I'm still undecided," he said.
Edited by sexyandfamous - Apr 19 2014 at 5:54pm