Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

“Back in the Day” Rapper Turns Stanford-Bound Scholar

August 24th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

1990s rapper Ahmad Ali Lewis at Compton’s Salvation Army Recreation Center.

(Source: The Los Angeles Times)

I came across this inspiring story in the LA Times. This fall, Ahmad Ali Lewis, whose single “Back in the Day” had heads bumping back in the mid-1990s, will be entering Stanford University. The valedictorian of his community college graduating class, his goal is to earn a Ph.D. in social work and become a university professor.

LA Times reporter Larry Gordon reports:

Ahmad Ali Lewis made a deal with his mother back when he was a high school student: He would go to college unless he got a recording contract for his upbeat rap music.

It was a big if. But Lewis, 17, an honors student and top football player, skipped the college entrance exams and signed with Giant Records. “I said S.A.T. – whatever. I want to R.A.P.,” he recalls.

His 1994 album, called “Ahmad,” included a hit single, “Back in the Day,” a nostalgic riff on his south Los Angeles childhood.

Looking back, Lewis said he does not regret his teenage decision, even though his early success was followed by struggles in a music industry he criticized as promoting violence in the black community. Now 32 and the father of a 4-year-old son, he is still recording songs but he is also finishing homework.

Ahmad the first-name-only rapper has become Ahmad Ali Lewis the Stanford-bound scholar.

Lewis enrolled two years ago at Long Beach City College and graduated in May as valedictorian, with a 4.0 grade point average. He was accepted as a transfer student by several universities for this fall and chose Stanford. “When I stepped on campus, something in my gut said, ‘Dude, this is where you belong,’ ” said Lewis, who plans to double major in sociology and African-American studies. He expects to get a doctorate in social work and become a professor.”I love teaching,” said Lewis, who tutored at an elementary school. “Rapping and teaching are not that far apart. You’re rapping, you’re talking. You’re a professor, you’re talking.”

He speaks of his Christian faith and academic ambitions with enthusiasm, humor and what he jokingly concedes is the “egomania” of a well-loved child. His mother, Paulette Holt, inspired him by starting college when she was a divorced mother of three and also “brainwashed me,” he said. “I always thought I was better than average, that I was handsome, smart and talented. It was a trick,” he said. “Being black in America, from the ghetto, you need that extra little bit of confidence. So that’s kind of my mission to give other kids that kind of confidence.”

The odds were against him at Stanford, which accepted just 20 of this year’s 1,200 transfer applicants. But Lewis was admitted and offered a financial aid package that will cover his tuition, room and board, which total more than $47,000 this school year. He’ll also receive funds for books and living costs each year through a highly competitive grant program the Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation offers community college students transferring to four-year schools.

“Ahmad was really a standout in all the areas,” said Vance Lancaster, a Cooke foundation spokesman. “He is truly a scholar and a humanitarian who just happens to be a chart-topping rapper.”

To read this entire article, click HERE.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African Americans, Ahmad Ali Lewis, Black Students, Current Events, Higher Education, race, Stanford University, Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Rebaca Ferguson

    Good for you! African Tatoo! YES!!! Heard of your many accomplishments and thought I should send a shout out! Happy about your young toddler!!! Fun age. Looking forward to your next album! Social activists can’t get better than that!

    Now Rebaca Prince Mother of 2 boys and one daughther 23 years old (just accepted at Univ Maryland for her PHD program to become a professor); wife and student in Human Services Business Management.