John Stallworth dreamed of going to college, but he didn’t know how he would get there. Not only could his family not afford to send him, his high school football team won only one game his senior year.
“The fallacy in my thoughts was that I thought you could do it independently of anybody and anything, and you can’t,” Stallworth said.
But thanks to a friendship with Sylvester Croom Jr., who would years later become the first black head football coach in the Southeastern Conference, Stallworth got an offer to play football at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. He excelled and went on to become one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history.
His dream came true.
Stallworth shared his life story during Friday’s inaugural HBCU Summit at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham. He was the keynote speaker at the event organized by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who asked Stallworth to speak to students about his HBCU experience.
“We need to be in the right place with the right amount of nutrients that we can grow,” Stallworth said. “I needed those kind of nutrients in my life, and I found those nutrients plentiful in the rich soil of Alabama A&M University, my HBCU.”
Stallworth said his dreams of continuing his education needed help.
“In order to make your dreams real you need a fire inside, an unshakeable courage, a burning desire, but there are times where there are forces external to us (that) seem to line up to divert us, to delay us, to defeat us, and to cast doubt into our minds,” Stallworth said. “Help takes different shapes. Sometimes it’s family and friends, sometimes it’s like-minded folks or organizations — those like-minded folks I like to call ‘dream enablers’ who ignite positive results in the lives of the dreamers.”
Stallworth’s keynote address was just one of several efforts Friday to enable students dreaming of success after school. A job fair was also held on-site during the summit where dozens of businesses from around Alabama talked with and recruited students looking for work after college.
“We’ve got some of the leading businesses in the state of Alabama that came to Birmingham today because they recognize the quality of education these students are getting at these HBCUs,” Jones said. “I want people to see that. Alabama has more HBCUs than any other state in the country. They provide well over $1 billion in economic engine for the state. One of the purposes of the event today was (to) highlight the phenomenal job that these colleges and universities do for these graduates. They’re forward thinking.”
Jones said a low unemployment rate, coupled with a number of businesses wanting to locate or expand in Alabama, has created an urgent need to recruit and train teenagers in junior high and high school.
“These kids need to understand that there are some really good jobs out there that are not necessarily going to require a four-year college degree,” Jones said. ”The more that we can help and assist in making sure they can attract the quality candidates, they can do an even better job with the degrees they’re offering — and it ranges everywhere from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) all the way to vocational degrees. These guys do an incredible job.”
During Black History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the month for stories of Alabamians past and present.