On a sunny afternoon in early September, so hot the public schools dismissed early, Hazim Hardeman strolled into the neighborhood where he grew up, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with “North Philly” in large red letters across the front.
It was here, in the Raymond Rosen housing development, that Hazim fell in love with sports, music, clothing. Here, where he spent hours each day on the basketball court, indulging boyish dreams of stardom, and nights at his best friend’s house nearby. Here, where even at 24, he knows so many people — and most everyone recognizes him.
“Hazim for president!” a childhood friend called out as he passed.
Founded in 1902, the scholarships are perhaps the world’s most celebrated post-graduate awards, offering a chance to study free at the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, for two or three years. By winning one, Hazim joined an esteemed list that includes former President Bill Clinton; Susan Rice, the first African American female U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter; and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.).
But while many Rhodes scholars come from privileged backgrounds with Ivy League degrees, Hazim’s path was sinuous, improbable, the kind of story usually reserved for Hollywood scriptwriters — and one that has driven him to make sure it’s not so unusual in the future.
Hazim grew up in a tough neighborhood that has one of the city’s highest violent crime rates, attended an under-resourced, struggling school system, faced challenges that nearly led him to fail out of high school — and started out in remedial classes in college. For many kids, such challenges are too daunting, the chance at success too fleeting — a fact that now drives Hazim.
“Don’t be happy for me that I overcame these barriers,” he says. “Be mad as hell that they exist in the first place.”
To read the full article by Susan Snyder, click here.