Story at a glance

  • Black students face many disadvantages in the education system, including systemic racism and generational poverty.
  • This year, at least three Black students are making history as valedictorians of their schools.
  • Their success highlights the obstacles they have had to overcome.

It’s been 67 years since a Supreme Court decision ordered the desegregation of American public schools, but to this day Black students are not always given the same opportunities as their classmates. Despite the systemic racism working against them, these Black students are making history and breaking generational barriers to success. 

Ahmed Muhammad is the first Black male student to be named valedictorian of Oakland Technical High School, which was founded more than a century ago. On track to have a 5.0 GPA his senior year, according to a local news outlet, the student athlete also scored well on college entrance exams — well enough, in fact, that he was accepted into 11 universities, including Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley and Stanford. 


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"It feels amazing. I’m grateful to be accepted to any single college, but 11 of them? I had never imagined this," Muhammad told KTVU.   

Already the founder of his own company, Kits Cubed, the 18-year-old hopes to inspire others with affordable science kits like others have inspired him. 

"Akintunde’s story helped show me what’s possible," Muhammad told KTVU, referencing another Oakland alumna who went on to graduate from Yale, "and I hope that my story can serve as another stepping stone for Oakland kids. I hope they see that they can accomplish all that I have accomplished and much more." 

Across the country in New York, 17-year-old Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield is the first Black valedictorian in Albany High School’s 152-year history. With a 4.0 GPA and impressive resume to match — co-captain of the soccer team, co-editor in chief of the school newspaper, a violinist, pianist, the list truly does go on — she’s got her pick of several renowned universities, including Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Stanford (the list, again, goes on).


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"I realized I can't allow other people to dictate my future," Otitigbe-Dangerfield, who is planning for a future in STEM, told the Times Union. "I wanted to go into this field and I had to come to terms with the fact that it's not going to be 100 percent easy as a Black woman."

Down south in Hollywood, Fla., Timi Adelakun is the first black valedictorian of South Broward High School, which was founded in 1938. 

"Coming from a low-income community, it means a lot in general because of the way I was brought up," Adelakun told ABC News.  

His 5.604 GPA (yes, that's possible) and similarly impressive accolades paved his way to a full-scholarship from Pomona College, but graduation will be bittersweet. His father, a Nigerian immigrant who was deported more than a decade ago and is still trying to return to the country, will be absent. 

"He's missed out and it's not his fault. It's not any of our fault," Adelakun told ABC News. "He left when I was in the first grade. ... I miss his physical presence and involvement."


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Published on Apr 22, 2021