Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 9, 1996

Transfer from the
College of Hard
Knocks: Patton Takes
The Ball And

To provide some insight into the freshman experience, The Gazette will follow--throughout the year--18-year-old writer and basketball standout Stacey Patton, who will reflect on the highs and lows of her first year at Hopkins.

In the following article, Gazette contributing writer Leslie Rice introduces Patton to our readers.

In Stacey Patton's book, "Somebody's Child," the main character's first memory begins at 4 when she is introduced to her adoptive family. At age 13, that child is taken from the family after years of abuse. From there she goes from foster homes, youth shelters and group homes until she turns 15 when, determined to be no longer a victim of a bureaucracy that makes no sense, she applies for a full scholarship at an exclusive boarding school. From that moment on--for better or worse--when it comes to her life, she calls the shots.

It's a powerful story, all the more compelling because it is this Hopkins freshman's memoir about achieving against the odds.

Ten days ago Patton was in New Jersey, packing for her trip to Baltimore, getting a little nervous and a lot excited about starting college. While her New York literary agent shops "Somebody's Child" to publishing houses, Patton has plenty to do: she's majoring in English and political science, getting ready for basketball season, finishing--by December--her second book (this one a novel called "Can I Get a Witness?"), writing a screenplay to Somebody's Child and writing the second part of her life's story, the one that chronicles her years in college.

"I just can't wait to get started," she says from her home, days before making the journey south. "When I came to visit Hopkins, I knew the minute I stepped onto campus that this was what I wanted. This was the right fit. Right now I feel like I have opportunities in my hands."

Last winter, Patton was recruited by a number of Ivy League and Division I basketball coaches but instead chose Hopkins, which could only offer her the chance to play Division III basketball.

"Sometimes I get a little wistful about not playing Division I, and I still have dreams of playing professionally after college. But I really liked [women's basketball coach] Nancy Blank right off," she says. "She was the first coach who treated me like a whole person who has other interests and does well academically. I was getting tired of feeling sought after just because I was an athlete and a black female. And also, I don't want to be owned by a basketball team. I'm looking forward to having basketball be my passion, not my job."

Few people would have expected this 18-year-old to soar beyond her bleak childhood the way she did. But for Patton, the defining moment was when she realized that she alone could save her own life.

"Things had become progressively worse in that family. My teachers knew what was going on, and the police had been called several times to our house, but nothing was done," she says. "Finally when I was 13, I told a state agency worker that I had to leave or someone was going to wind up dead. A lot of child abuse cases end up in tragedy. Fortunately, mine didn't."

From there she lived in foster homes and then a group home where she tried to keep up with her sports and academics while living with drug addicts and truants. It was in that shelter that she met a counselor who was a graduate of Lawrenceville, a college preparatory boarding school in New Jersey. He suggested she apply for a scholarship.

"A lot of people tried to discourage me from applying there. I was pretty intimidated by it and many people assured me there was no way I could get in," she recalls.

They were wrong.

"Somebody's Child" is set during her years at Lawrenceville, beginning with her first year when she was anti-social and wary of everyone.

"All I did was go to classes, play my sports and go back to my room," she says. "I didn't trust anyone and I just wanted to be left alone. None of my peers knew about my past, and that suited me just fine. I made a lot of mistakes that first year. I was kicked off the basketball team for having an attitude, which just about killed me, and I didn't make any friends."

But gradually she grew to like teachers who tried to draw her out and help her through school. And by junior year she had warmed to her classmates and her new life. By senior year, she was in the thick of things, and her classmates knew her as a talkative, funny young woman, who enjoyed public speaking and was secretary of her class.

A major storyline in "Somebody's Child" follows a trip Patton took in her sophomore year when she was reunited for the first time with her biological family. The book takes the reader back to 1919 when the family was a cohesive unit. From there it chronicles the physical and emotional assaults--like suicide, rape and drugs--that led to the breakdown of her family.

"After the main character gains this awful knowledge, she has to figure out what to do with it," she explains. "I really think what they say is true: almost all society's ills are due to the breakdown of the family. Almost every problem is solvable if you have that one thing, a centralized family unit. And yet that one thing can be so fragile."

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage