An 18th birthday can be one of the most significant in a young person's life, for many reasons. For Stanley Wright, a West Charlotte High senior, it marked an accomplishment he's been determined to reach – but one that seemed unrealistic at times.
On Jan. 6, the day Wright turned 18, he was offered a football scholarship from N.C. Central University, putting him in a position to be the first in his immediate family to attend college.
But he had to overcome many obstacles to reach this point, including growing up in a once-dangerous and violent neighborhood and losing some of his most influential mentors. But other mentors filled the void and helped the quiet and personable young man chase his dreams.
The child of parents who have always been in his life, but never married, Wright was primarily raised by his mother, Kim McDonald. He has two older brothers, a younger sister and a twin brother with whom he shares the same first name but a different middle name.
He is Stanley “Rodge” Wright, and goes by “G.” His twin's middle name is Rodja, and goes by “J.” They were named after their father, who is also named Stanley Wright.
The children and their mother all lived in the Charlotte neighborhood of Dillehay Courts, which has “come a long way since back in the day (when) you could walk outside into a war zone,” Wright said. One of his vivid memories from his youth is looking out his front door one day and watching a man walking nonchalantly up the street with a shotgun in his hand.
He also recalls a night when some people shot at his neighbor's house, and a stray bullet penetrated the kitchen wall of the Wrights' house. It happened at a time of the evening when he would normally be in the kitchen doing his homework, he said.
“By the grace of God, no one was hurt,” he said.
Wright said he entered West Charlotte as a freshman with dreams of playing football and perhaps working toward a college scholarship. Realistically, he said, he didn't have the motivation to even graduate from high school because of the negative forces working against him.
He gave up on football while he spent a couple of years boxing with the Charlotte Boxing Academy, climbing the national ranks of the National Silver Gloves. He boxed partly because his father used to box but also to give him the tools for self-defense in his neighborhood.
Participating in track and field for the first time as a junior at West Charlotte, he met Lions head coach Bennett King and assistant Trent Guy, whom he considers trusted mentors. Guy urged Wright to push himself and arranged for N.C. A&T coaches to give him a serious look for a track and field scholarship.
A poor performance in the 400 meters at the 4A state meet last year hurt his chances with A&T, Wright says. But what hurt more was when Guy died of cancer last summer.
Wright figured his last chance at a college scholarship was in football. West Charlotte had a new coach in Aaron Brand, and Wright felt it could be his chance to reassert himself as a football player.
He had a solid season, and Brand helped Wright get some looks from colleges. He had made contact with N.C. Central when Brand was dismissed as coach shortly after the end of his first season, leaving his opportunity with N.C. Central in doubt. But West Charlotte athletic director Masanori Toguchi stepped in as the facilitator and helped seal the deal.
Now Wright feels he can be an example to other youths in his neighborhood.
“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” he said. “I know kids that started with me (at West Charlotte) as a freshman, now they're not in school. …
“My friend, Nigel Johnson, he tells me he looks up to me because I made it. He's a running back that goes here. That's the message I want to portray to the whole neighborhood. If it's not in athletics, at least try to get some type of education.”