A genius is defined as someone who has an exceptional natural capacity of intellect. They are people whose lives and work have impacted the physical and cultural milieu of the world. NewsOne has put together a list of geniuses who continue the thread and spirit of Black life and culture. Check them out!
1. Ben Carson: In fifth grade, Carson was failing and his class mates called him “dummy.” Since Carson’s mom, Sonja, a third-grade drop-out, didn’t want her two boys to follow in her footsteps, she cracked the whip. The Mom-on-a-mission limited TV-watching and kept her sons from playing outside until all homework was done. The Carson boys had to read two books a week then give their mom two book reports on what they had read, even though she could barely make out what they had written. Within a few weeks, Carson turned his grade average around and realized he was far from stupid. A year later, he topped his class. Carson began to consume books and placed becoming a doctor on his radar. He soon graduated with honors from high school and set his sights on Yale University, earning a Psychology degree from the Ivy League school.
When he attended the University of Michigan’s medical school, he switched from psychiatry to neurosurgery. Upon graduating, Carson completed his residency at the famed Johns Hopkins, and by 32, he became the director of pediatric neurosurgery. In 1987, Carson made medical history with an operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins.
Watch Carson talk about his work here:
Carson has pioneered other successful surgical innovations that have actually cheated death. The man with the gifted hands, who lives by the belief that “no one should ever get too big for God,” has received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is greatly in demand as a speaker.
Carson’s other true passion is the state of education in this country. Lamenting the lack of quality in this country’s public education system, Carson has dedicated himself to frequently visiting with Black school children in order to motivate them to strive to become all that they can be. “I tell them about slavery, when it was illegal for Blacks to learn how to read. I say, Now why do you think that was? Do you think that was just arbitrary? No, the reason they didn’t want you to be educated is because education empowers people. So why would you voluntarily do to yourself what was being imposed by an unjust system before?”
2. Brittney Exline: When Exline walked across the stage at the University of Pennsylvania graduating cum laude at age 19, she also walked in to the history books. Exline was the school’s youngest engineer and the nation’s youngest African-American engineer. In 2007, at age 15, Exline made headlines in her hometown when she graduated from her Colorado Springs high school at 15. There is no doubt that the young woman, who speaks Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, and German, was born with a genius gene. Exline was making pyramid designs with blocks at 6 months old, walking at 8 months old, and completing 24- to- 100-piece jigsaw puzzles at 15 months old.
Exline’s stellar academics helped her to secure an internship at a small hedge fund on New York City’s famed Wall Street at 16 and 17. In addition to all of her great academic and professional feats, Exline has won several pageant titles and is an accomplished dancer. Volunteerism has also remained a passion for the now-motivational speaker who during her college years worked with Community School Student Partnerships in Philadelphia to train and mentor 30 tutors.
3. Dr. Ronald Mallet: Physics? Mallet grew up poor and was the oldest of four children, and at 10 years old, he hadn’t even heard of physics until he read the H.G. Wells‘ classic “The Time Machine,” after his father died at age 33. The young Roaring Spring, Penn., native thought that if he built a device, such as the one in the Wells’ book, he could see his father again. This longing to reunite with his dad and travel back in time inspired him to become one of America’s first African-American Ph.D.s in theoretical physics. Ironically, the young Mallett was not terribly enthusiastic about school, but his singular passion to uncover the mysteries of space and time spurred him on to receive his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in physics from Pennsylvania State University. In 1975, Mallet joined the physics faculty at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, where he has been a professor of theoretical physics ever since.
Dr. Mallet has published numerous papers on black holes and cosmology in professional journals. His breakthrough research on time travel has been featured extensively in the media around the world, including NPR’s “This American Life” and the History Channel, Science Channel, and Learning Channel.
Dr. Ronald Mallett is the personification of brilliance and greatness tempered by a true persevering spirit. He is a man of his own making who has — for the last 50 years — stayed his course, even though he began as a broken-hearted 10-year-old boy whose father was taken away from him much too soon.
Watch Dr. Mallet talk about losing his father and trying to build a real time machine here:
4. Ornette Coleman: Saxophonist extraordinaire Charlie Parker was Coleman’s greatest influence when he picked up the alto sax at age 14 and tenor two years later. The highly respected revolutionary is credited as being among the creators of free jazz. The innovative musician/composer has been hailed a musical genius and visionary while his “haters” have been unable to comprehend his radical, abstract, and highly cerebral work. Coleman began working in R&B bands in Texas, including those of Red Connors and Pee Wee Crayton, but his attempts to play in an original style were consistently met with hostility both by audiences and fellow musicians. Coleman moved to Los Angeles in the early ’50s, where he worked as an elevator operator while studying music books.
Listen to Coleman’s music here:
Finally in 1958, after many failed attempts to sit in with top L.A. musicians, Coleman found a clique of musicians who could do justice to his unique sound. In 1959, Coleman’s radical jazz sound found a home at the Five Spot in New York City, and each night his music filled the house with curious onlookers who would either label him a “genius” or a “fraud.”
Coleman created music that would greatly influence such noted great improvisers of the 1960s, including John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. In 1962, Coleman decided to take a break to teach himself the trumpet and violin, and three years later, he recorded a few mind-boggling sets on all his instruments with a trio featuring bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett.
Watch Coleman play here:
Coleman, a jazz giant, would later go on to form more quartets and perform on recordings, and to this day, he has remained true to his still-controversial sound.
5. Tiya Miles: A scholar and increasingly authoritative voice in reframing and reinterpreting the history of our diverse nation, Miles is a public historian and the country’s foremost expert on the complex interrelationships between African and Cherokee people living and working in colonial America. In her first book “Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom,” Miles explores Cherokee history with attention to the interrelated nature of slavery, race, kin, citizenship, and community. Miles continues her exploration in to early Afro-Indian relations with a public history project and book centered on the Diamond Hill plantation in Georgia, one of the largest Native-owned plantations in colonial history.
Watch Miles talk about the importance of her work here:
In “The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story,” she documents Chief James Vann‘s control of his plantation and abuse of his Cherokee wives and African slaves.
Miles, who received an B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A. from Emory University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, is currently at the University of Michigan, where she serves as a professor in the Department of History and professor and chair of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies. She holds additional appointments in the Program in American Culture, the Native American Studies Program, and the Department of Women’s Studies.
Miles’ work collecting and analyzing information from the U.S. Census, oral histories, and newspapers has been recognized by the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded her with a MacArthur Genius grant last year. Regarding Miles’ life work, she says, “I think that history matters so much to who we are as individuals, as communities, as a nation, as a global community. I feel that it’s just so important to bring the meaningful stories of the past into the present, into today, and to allow people to engage with them and to connect them back to their own lives.”
6. Elise Tan: At age 2, Tan who had an IQ of 156, was a card-carrying member of Mensa, the international organization for people with very high scores in IQ tests. Tan was only 5 months old when she looked her dad, Edward (pictured), in the face and called him “Dada.” She was walking by 8 months, running at 10 months, and a year old when she could recognize her written name. At 16 months old, she could count to 10, and by age 2, she knew the capitals of the world and could speak Spanish. Before she began to verbally communicate, her parents noticed that she would stare at people and things as if she were taking everything in and then sorting things out. At a play group, her mom, Louise (pictured), once gave Tan a “rhinoceros” and the little tot corrected her mom by informing her that the toy was actually a triceratops. When Tan was evaluated by a specialist education psychologist, he concluded that the child was indeed “gifted.” Tan’s parents, Edward, a motor consultant and car buyer, and mom Louise, a homemaker, admit that neither side has geniuses in their lineage. The London couple just want their 5-year-old little girl to be happy for now, and as far as what the future holds, perhaps a revision to Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?
Watch Tan’s story here: