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If your father was an alcoholic and your family was very comfortable with poverty, would you want to follow in their footsteps? Or would you choose a different path and better yourself? Read on to learn how writer and editor Brent Staples took the road less traveled.

Early Life

Brent Staples was born on September 13, 1951 in Chester, Pennsylvania.

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His father, Melvin, was a truck driver, and his mother, Geneva, was a stay-at-home mom.Brent was the oldest son out of nine children, and he had a lot of responsibility in the family. This is typical for the oldest son, but Brent had even more pressure put on him once his dad became an alcoholic. Brent started to resent his family and got frustrated with the poverty of his home life. Things were so bad financially that Brent and his family had to leave their house because they could no longer pay the rent. This happened over and over again.

The Staples family ended up moving eight times before Brent was in 7th grade. Brent hated this lifestyle and decided to distance himself from his family. Eventually, he would pull this off, not only making a name for himself, but becoming a respected writer and editor for one of the most famous newspapers in the country.

Brent Stapes
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Education

When did you begin preparing for college? Did you decide on a whim or did you strategically plan during your high school years? Brent Staples was an average student in grade school and didn’t give much thought to college. He didn’t even take the SAT. But one man gave him some encouragement that changed his life.

Eugene Sparrow was a college professor who saw potential in Staples and encouraged him to apply to a college prep program called Project Prepare. It was a summer college prep program at Philadelphia Military College. Staples applied and was accepted to the summer program and later to the college for admission as well.

In 1973, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the school, which was changed to Widener University while he was there. He later earned his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1977.

Scattering the Pigeons

How do you deal with tough situations? When people are mean to you or treat you unfairly do you lash out at them or laugh it off? Staples decided to turn offenses towards him into a game.In college and at other times in his life, Brent had to deal with racism. People would automatically treat him differently, and this bothered him. One of his famous quotes is, ‘All of us in this country (USA) have more in common than we have differences.

‘As a heavy, black male, his presence made others uncomfortable. In his writings, he says that Caucasian women would clutch their purses closer and move to the other side of the street when they saw him walking near them. Brent was offended because he knew that he meant them no harm.At first, he did nothing, but as the attitudes toward him did not change, he turned the situation into a game he called scattering the pigeons, where he actually tried to scare the people who seemed fearful of him.Although this was a rather odd way of dealing with this issue, it led to a greater purpose. Staples was fascinated by people’s attitudes toward him and what they decided to do as a result. He began researching even more and ended up writing his doctoral thesis on the subject of the mathematics of decision-making.

Teaching and Writing

After college, Staples taught psychology classes at Widener University and did freelance writing as well. He decided to change his focus to journalism in the 1980s and became a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times. A few years later, he moved on to the New York Times.Brent Staples is currently on the editorial board of the New York Times. He also contributes articles.

Staples’s Autobiography

In 1994, Staples published his autobiography, Parallel Time: Growing up in Black and White. The autobiography is all about his life growing up and his experiences in college. A large part of the book is about his family and how looking at their lives made him want to be as little like them as possible.

Honors and Awards

Brent Staples has received several awards and honors for his work. In 1995, he received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was even given an honorary doctorate degree from Mount St. Mary’s College.

Lesson Summary

Brent Staples is a journalist and author who was born in 1951 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Growing up in poverty and gaining more responsibility because his dad abused alcohol made him want to distance himself from his family. He did so and eventually wrote a book called Parallel Time: Growing up in Black and White.

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