Akin White has been an artist for as long as he can remember. 

Whenever inspiration struck, Akin would grab whatever piece of paper nearby and a pencil and start drawing. His mom, Keisha White, recognized her son’s talent one day when he drew Superman, and the sketch looked exactly like the comic book superhero.

White knew Akin’s talent could blossom into a career, so she nurtured it and allowed him to draw his own path forward.

“A lot of parents would have been like, ‘Oh no, you go to get a real job,’ but (mine) encouraged it,” Akin said, adding his love of art eventually led him to designing clothes and wanting to break into the fashion industry.

That encouragement helped Akin, 18, secure a Gucci Changemakers Scholarship of up to $20,000 and an internship with the high-end brand. The Gucci scholarship is certainly attention grabbing, but it is just one of 32 scholarships — and counting — Akin earned this past year. In total, the Young Men’s Leadership Academy graduate received more than $1 million in scholarships.

Although many of his scholarships are tied to a particular university, Akin wanted to be sure his college education was covered, which it is. He plans to study fashion design at Norfolk State University in Virginia.

“Better safe than sorry,” Akin said, explaining his large haul of scholarships. “Truthfully, we didn’t know if we were going to get any, so I had to cast a wide net just to ensure that I would be able to go to school on someone else’s dime.”

One of the biggest motivators in Akin White’s pursuit of scholarships was his mother, Keisha White, a former English teacher who now runs a college preparatory program. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

White had a different perspective on her son’s scholarship trove. She would always tell Akin, “You’re too smart and too talented for you to pay for college.” Before graduation, she would remind him someone out in the world would be willing to pay him to go to school — it was just up to them to find those people.

Brotherhood elevated school

Half of Akin’s time in school was spent at Fort Worth ISD’s Young Men’s Leadership Academy, the district’s first all-boys school focused on preparing students for academics and life. The school was a major factor in Akin’s success, he said.

The academy is defined by its rigorous college-like curriculum that starts when boys enroll in the sixth grade. White, a former English teacher who has her doctorate of education, wanted her son in an all-boys school because research has shown many students tend to perform better academically in a single-sex campus. 

The Young Men’s Leadership Academy helped Akin forge bonds with his fellow students. Although the students would occasionally have a scuffle, Akins said, they always came back together for an assignment or to blow off some steam by playing basketball. The boys at the school were not just friends for Akin — they were brothers.

“More than anything, that brotherhood that we had elevated everyone because I’ve done a lot of good things, but my brothers have also done great things as well,” Akin said.

With each graduating class, several students earn full-ride scholarships to Texas Christian University. In fact, the school has seen several determined students like Akin who earned more than $1 million in scholarships.

Akin White holds one of his drawings in his sketchbook. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

“I kind of expect that now,” said William Parker, a math teacher at the school who taught Akin for three years. “At Young Men’s Leadership Academy, we have had one or two others in the past few years. We’ve only had three graduating classes before this year.”

Still, Parker saw Akin as a unique student. Akin has his own fashion line called Long Live Uno. He also has been tutoring Parker’s 10-year-old daughter, Brodie, teaching her art. He taught Brodie how to use pencils, charcoal, watercolors and then how to draw faces and do natural art. Akin has even influenced her to take on sewing and begin her own path into fashion.

Parker saw Akin’s exceptional abilities in his classes. Akin was one of Parker’s youngest students in his advanced college course. 

Akin White holds another one of his drawings in his sketchbook. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

“He was performing with high A’s throughout the entire year where some of the other students that were two years older than him were performing at the same rate,” Parker said. “He had no difficulty keeping up as well as he was actually helping them comprehend some of the materials.”

Parker attributed Akin’s success, in part, to Young Men’s Leadership Academy. The culture of brotherhood changes the dynamic between students and teachers. The smaller, college-like classes allow students to have more time with their teachers. 

‘Somewhere that I was supposed to be’

But really, the math teacher said, Akin’s drive starts at home.

Accepted

Akin White was accepted into 17 universities. He plans to attend Norfolk State University to study fashion design. Here are the other colleges that accepted him:

  • Benedict College
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Grambling State University
  • Langston University
  • Norfolk State University
  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • North Carolina Central University
  • Philander Smith College
  • Seton Hall University
  • Southern University and A&M College
  • Texas Christian University
  • University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • University of North Texas
  • Virginia State University
  • Houston Baptist University
  • Huston-Tillotson University
  • Harris-Stowe State University

White wanted to be a creative writer, but life got in the way. She grew up during a time when it was expected she would either work in corporate America or for the government. She did not want that for her son.

“I noticed that parents can be the biggest dream killers. I didn’t want to do that to him,” White said.

White runs a program called The Prep Factory that helps students get prepared for college. She started it to help Fort Worth ISD students who would often be overlooked by schools. Students learn more about what options they have for college, how to fund it, and actually get to see a college campus. 

Of course, White had her son be part of it. He took SAT preparation courses ahead of taking the test, on which he scored a 1370. 

White also teaches her students about finding a college that best fits a student, even if that means passing on a full-ride scholarship. That was a lesson Akin took to heart. Although he could go to TCU completely for free, he passed on it because he felt the university’s fashion design program did not fit him.

White teaches that lesson because she has experienced it firsthand. She initially pursued her education doctorate at the University of North Texas, but the program did not fit her because she was a single mother who had to figure out how to care for her son and take classes. White eventually got her degree from Texas Wesleyan University because the institution and its professors worked with her.

Akin knew Norfolk State University was the best for him when he toured the campus. He stopped by the fashion design studio, and it reminded him of his art class at Young Men’s Leadership Academy. It was tucked into a corner of the campus. The lights were low, with plenty of natural light coming through the windows.

“When I went to Norfolk State, it was obvious that people had been working there,” said Akin, who was accepted into 17 colleges. “It felt like something I was familiar with. … It felt like somewhere that I was supposed to be.”

Akin White talks to professors during a tour of Norfolk State University. His mother, Keisha White, said it was at this moment she knew he would attend that college. (Contributed by Keisha White)

His mom joined him on that tour. She made sure to record every moment.

“When I took him on a tour to Norfolk State University, there was a moment when I knew he was going to pick that school, and I took a picture of him,” White said.

Akin will start classes in the fall. The university reminds him a lot of the Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

“That was really big for me because it takes a village, and I come from this big village of people that have gotten me to this point,” Akin said. “I didn’t want that to just stop in college.”

Editor’s note: The headline on this story was updated for clarity.

Akin White’s scholarships

Young Men’s Leadership Academy graduate Akin White earned more than $1 million in scholarships for college. Here’s what he received:

  • Virginia State University Presidential Scholarship – $40,000
  • Benedict College scholarships – $96,320
  • Grambling State University scholarships – $56,092
  • Seton Hall University scholarships – $76,500
  • University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff scholarships – $178,640
  • Philander Smith College scholarship – $49,656
  • Texas Christian University scholarships $308,000
  • North Carolina A&T State University – $40,000
  • Houston Baptist University scholarship – $80,000
  • Norfolk State University scholarships – $54,700
  • Southern University and A&M College scholarships – $151,768
  • University of North Texas scholarship – $16,000
  • MBK Entrepreneur Scholarship – $2,500
  • NBC Wingstop Scholar Athlete – $3,000
  • Alpha Beautillion (Alpha Phi Alpha) – $3,155
  • CY Thomas Scholarship (Phi Beta Sigma) – $1,000
  • Nelson Youth Entrepreneur Scholarship – $500
  • Gucci Changemakers Scholarship – Up to $20,000
  • Overseer Roy L. West Book Scholarship – $250

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful well-crafted article celebrating an inspiring story of hard work and determination. However, I find the headline either a little disturbing or just plain incorrect. If I am missing it, please explain the relevance of the headline to the story Shouldn’t the headline read, Single-parent school grad draws attention with $1 million in scholarships?

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