Successful young adults rarely match their triumphs with a proportional level of humility. But Darius Graham ’09, who recently became a published author at the ripe old age of 23, remains grounded amid his lofty achievements.
“I remember my first week of law school and Dean (Christopher) Edley talking about the themes of ambition with a purpose and excellence for a reason,” Graham recalls. “You want to be great, smart, and successful. But at the end of the day, what are you going to do with it?
Graham has done plenty, as evidenced by the recent publication of “Being the Difference: True Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the World.” The book profiles 13 individuals who used their own experiences to help others in remarkable ways. Also remarkable is that Graham wrote it during his first year at Boalt—widely viewed as the most stressful period in law school with little time for outside endeavors.
Juggling multiple commitments, however, is nothing new for Graham. As an undergraduate at Florida A&M, he founded the school’s Honor Student Association, captained its mock trial team, hosted a public affairs radio show, and was president of the Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society. In 2006, he was named to USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team—one of 20 students chosen among more than 600 nominees on the basis of grades, leadership, activities, and extending intellectual talents beyond the classroom.
Graham’s idea for “Being the Difference” flourished after he met with children who complained about their schools not having enough books to read. Angered by their plight, he formed a non-profit organization called Books All Around, which promotes youth literacy and helps supply books to schools and community centers. Graham also began reading about everyday citizens performing exceptional volunteer work, and drew inspiration from their stories. He compiled their information, contacted some of them about his book idea, and had several conversations with each who responded.
“The people and their stories are very compelling,” says Graham, whose book is available through Amazon.com, BookSurge.com, and other retail channels. “Starting a medical clinic in Africa, doing refugee work, running an arts program for kids in urban areas or helping people battle alcoholism, these stories all convey something valuable. At least one of them seems to resonate strongly with every reader.”
Emma Rhodes is an example. An African-American woman who grew up in the 1950s, Rhodes became pregnant in high school and dropped out at age 14. Before turning 30, she had seven children and had endured her husband’s death. Ever persistent, Rhodes got her GED, enrolled in college at night while working to support her family during the day, earned a Doctorate of Education, and eventually ran Arkansas’ entire GED program. After retiring, she established a center in Little Rock for inner city communities and individuals most in need. The center offers free services such as GED classes for youth and high school dropouts, adult education for the GED, refresher courses for adult graduates, computer literacy classes, life-skills training, and conversational Spanish classes.
“People like her made it worthwhile and kept me going,” Graham says. “I figured if she could do all that given her circumstances, I could write a few more pages.”
Graham has yet to take his foot off the pedal at Boalt, where he is editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy and a member of the California Law Review. A native of Charlotte, Graham knew of Boalt’s academic reputation before applying to law school. But he has been pleasantly surprised by the depth of students’ commitment to others.
“It seems like everyone has an issue they’re really passionate about, and it’s unique to our school to see so many talented students find ways to give back,” he says. “I don’t think I’d receive same that kind of support or inspiration at a different law school.”
A former intern with the Department of State and the Department of Labor, Graham was a summer associate last year at Foley & Lardner in Washington, D.C., and will work there again this summer. Although there are no new book projects on his immediate horizon, Graham will keep pushing the message that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.
“It’s great to see so many young people involved in political campaigns,” he says. “But too often you hear them say, ‘‘If only we can get this person into office, the country will be better.’ My view is, no, when you hear about a problem you don’t have to wait for someone else to deal with it. You can help right now by reading to a child, donating food to a shelter, any number of things. That’s what this book is about, regular people doing something to help their community and to make the world a better place.”
—By Andrew Cohen