Written by: Arthia Nixon
Photo by: Luke Engram, MME
“ I could see my God working through him, because before I talked to him, I was outside his office telling my mother, ‘ There is no way we can pay for this. I don’t even know why we came all the way up here just to get denied!” God showed me that if you just put your trust in him he’ll make a way. I was blessed to have received the $80,000 Oprah Winfrey Scholarship. All I have to do is maintain a 3.0 and I’ll keep it. That scholarship will pay a big chunk of my school’s cost and take a big load off my mother’s back. Shout out to Oprah!” – Akeem Baker, left with brother Rafeal.
When you first meet brothers Akeem and Rafeal Baker, there is an instant attraction. Both are young, intelligent, witty and charming black men who are excited about life and eager to put their best foot forward. Despite the fact that they are now legally adults, they end their sentences during their interview with me respectfully with “yes ma’am” or “beg your pardon ma’am?”, evidence that southern hospitality and good old fashioned manners from mom still reigns in some households. However, if you’re lucky to engage in conversation with them, one might wonder how it’s possible that the two 18 year-olds are not twins.
The answer is obvious when you realize that they have the same father but different mothers. Rafeal was born in December 1993 and Akeem was born in January 1994. With their mannerisms and drive, one might also find it hard to believe that these young men have grown up with their father and one of their mothers incarcerated. Yet, despite the stigma associated with children of jailed parents, Akeem and Rafeal are proving that they are living life on their own terms and can overcome what people assume they should be and what they want their life to be. That combined with academic ambition has been the reason why the brothers have amassed enough scholarships between them to secure their futures.
The Brunswick High School grads excelled all around and represented the Pirates on and off the field. Akeem was in the National Honor Society, Beta Club, FCA, Key Club, and Student Council. He also played football for four years and basketball for two years. He’s also passionate about community building as a youth ministry member at Kingdom Builder’s Church where he participates in projects like “Feed My Sheep” and “Giveaways” which provides meals, clothes and other necessities for the less fortunate. Meanwhile, Rafeal played football and basketball in his freshmen year and was president of the Key Club, treasurer of BETA Club, and was also a member of National Honors Society and on the Student Council.
While most students will be content with a 3.0 grade point average, Akeem says he “struggled” through three years maintaining a 3.92 and was pleased that he finally got it up to a 4.0. Rafeal on the other hand graduated with a 4.1 grade point average.
Rafeal walked away with more than a few titles including the Golden Rule Student of the Month, Glynn County Student of the Year which came with a $3,000 prize, Brunswick High Senior Student of the Year, Georgia winner for the $5,000 Horatio Alger Scholarship, Key Club Scholarship, and the Link Inc. Scholarship.
Prior to being awarded his scholarship, Akeem recalls being discouraged about even visiting Morehouse College.
“I actually went up to the school and talked to the head of financial aid,” he said. “I told him my GPA and some other important things like my SAT and ACT scores. He looked at my family’s income and other things and awarded me with the scholarship. I could see my God working through him because before I talked to him I was outside his office telling my mother, ‘There is no way we can pay for this. I don’t even know why we came all the way up here just to get denied!” God showed me that if you just put your trust in him he’ll make a way. I was blessed to have received the $80,000 Oprah Winfrey scholarship. All I have to do is maintain a 3.0 and I’ll keep it. That scholarship will pay a big chunk of my school’s cost and take a big load off my mother’s back. Shout out to Oprah!”
While Akeem is set for Morehouse, Rafeal will attend Georgia College and State University. Both plan to pursue careers in medicine, particularly anesthesiology.
And despite their father being in jail, the brothers admit that he is still very much a dad to them and the reason Rafeal says he strives for greater success.
“Ralf and I have a very strong relationship with our father,” says Akeem. “I feel like I’ve always had my father in my life although he hasn’t been with me physically, I have always been writing him constantly and asking for advice on things only a father would have the answer to.
More importantly, the brothers have maintained a relationship with each other. “That’s my big brother but we’re the same age,” Akeem says of Rafeal. “I ask him whatever I want to and vice versa. We do everything together because we have so much in common. It’s a blessing to have a brother like him.” “Akeem and I are close because we understand each other,” added Rafeal. “We are always there for each other no matter what. I love my brother, because he always has my back when I feel I don’t have anyone else.”
Both credit the success of their relationship to two very special ladies – their mothers. “My mother Chastity influenced me to be who I am today,” Akeem beams. “I just want to make her proud because she makes me proud every day. My daddy once told me, ‘There’s nothing like a mother’s love. A mother gives her child the same love God gives us. ‘She shows me every day that he was absolutely right. And mom, I love you and you won’t be working much longer when I get a job. For real.”
“My mom Tasha, what can I say to her,” smiles Rafeal. “Thank you for giving birth to me and for giving me life. My family, especially my grandmothers Brenda Dobson and Sakile Flowers, mom, and all the great teachers that I encountered have helped me become who I am.”
When asked what message they would spread to young black men to continue striving for excellence, the Baker brothers weren’t short on words. “Don’t get caught up in that foolishness man, “advised Akeem.” If I could do this, you can do this. Think big. You don’t have to go to school to make it big. Just find something you’re passionate about and change the world with it. The world wants a black man to fail because it’s afraid of him taking over.” Added Rafeal: “Stay focused and never let anything get in the way of your dreams. Also, remember to always work on keeping your mind sharp, because that is something no one can ever take away from you.”
From all of us at The Florida and Georgia Star, a proud media voice in the African-American community, we wish the best to the Bakers who, in spite of all the negative news, prove that there are not only a few good men left, but a few good black men setting standards in their generation. Congratulations!
“Don’t get caught up in that foolishness man. If I could do this, you can do this. Think big. You don’t have to go to school to make it big. Just find something you’re passionate about and change the world with it. The world wants a black man to fail because it’s afraid of him taking over.” – Akeem Baker
“Stay focused and never let anything get in the way of your dreams. Also, remember to always work on keeping your mind sharp, because that is something no one can ever take away from you.” – Rafeal Baker