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Temple gets its first Rhodes Scholar: A North Philly kid

Hazim Hardeman is one of a record 10 African American Rhodes scholars announced this weekend; four of the 32 winners have ties to the region.

Hazim Hardeman is Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar ever. He is photographed on campus November 19, 2017, where he graduated in May with a degree in strategic communication. Before Temple, he attended Community College of Philadelphia. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Hazim Hardeman is Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar ever. He is photographed on campus November 19, 2017, where he graduated in May with a degree in strategic communication. Before Temple, he attended Community College of Philadelphia. TOM GRALISH / Staff PhotographerRead moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Hazim Hardeman's mother wanted a better school than the family's North Philadelphia neighborhood could offer her son.

So she falsified the family's address and sent him to Shawmont in Roxborough.

"For her, it was a life-and-death situation," said Hardeman, now 23. "She understood that having access to this education at such an early age would really be formative and could shape or even determine the trajectory that my brother and I would be on."

For Hardeman, a 2017 magna cum laude graduate of Temple University, her choice might have been life-altering.

This weekend, Hardeman was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship – the first student in Temple's history to receive the honor. He will pursue his studies in sociology or political theory next fall at Oxford University in England.

Hardeman told the story of his mother's fateful decision to send him to Shawmont in his Rhodes application.

Hardeman, who transferred to Temple after getting his associate's degree at the Community College of Philadelphia, perfectly represents the kind of student that Temple founder Russell Conwell hoped to educate, said Ruth Ost, senior director of  Temple's honors program.

"We talk about acres of diamonds in our own neighborhood," she said. "Here is Hazim, born and raised in North Philly. If we had to choose someone who represents the values of Temple and what Temple really cares about, this is the man who does that."

Hardeman, who is working as a adjunct professor at Temple this year, is one of 10 African American scholars out of a total of 32 to get the award, the most in a single class.

"It's awesome," said Hardeman, as he sat at a table Sunday at Temple's Annenberg Hall, where he had taken classes as a strategic communication major. "What I surmise is that we will all bring experiences to bear on that institution and subject it to transformation in whatever little way."

Several other scholars with local ties also were among the 32 named Rhodes Scholars. They include Christopher J. D'Urso, a University of Pennsylvania student from Colts Neck, N.J.; Jordan D. Thomas, a Princeton student from South Plainfield, N.J.; and Alan Yang, a Harvard student from Dresher, Montgomery County.

Hardeman grew up at 23rd and Diamond, just blocks from Temple's campus. The university always seemed like "another world." He dreamed of crossing the barrier.

"I thought it was a chance for me to show that it is a possibility," he said.

After attending several schools in his neighborhood that were starved for  resources and where many students struggled, he transferred to Shawmont in third grade.

"They really pushed you to achieve academically but they also had programs to cultivate students," he said.

His experience at Shawmont didn't leave him immune to other issues that can derail a student's education. When he was in high school at Murrell Dobbins Vocational School in North Philadelphia, his mother, struggling with personal issues, moved to her hometown of Atlanta for a year and a half.

"From there, things sort of got off track," said Hardeman, who stayed in Philadelphia and lived with his older sister. "It became easy to lose sight of what was important."

He began failing his classes. His GPA plummeted. His dream of attending Temple dimmed.

Then his mother returned, and the look on her face when she learned he was failing galvanized  him. She paid for him to take extra courses and graduate on time from the now-closed Hope Charter School, where he had transferred.

Hardeman finished with a 2.3 GPA, not good enough to get into Temple. So he went to community college, and his life as a scholar took off. He got into the honors program, for which he had high praise, and served as vice president of the student body.

At Temple, he sat front row in class and met professors who helped to shape his scholarly goals. He also had a research stint at Cornell University and worked in the Philadelphia mayor's office, preparing a report on how better playgrounds could improve the city's child-care facilities.

Hardeman wants to be a professor and a researcher. He has an interest in prison reform.

"One of the desires I have is to teach in prisons," he said.

That desire developed after taking a class in Temple "Inside-Out" exchange program, through which undergraduates learn alongside prison inmates.

"It really changed what I think justice should look like," he said. "It moved from who did what and how can we punish them to who was hurt and can you restore the humanity of each person involved."

Ost heard Hardeman give eloquent closing remarks when the class ended.

"She came up to me and said we finally got one," Hardeman recalled. He didn't know what she meant. Ost explained: He could be Temple's first Rhodes scholar.

"It was absolutely true," Ost said Sunday, recalling that moment. "I've rarely met anyone who had the level of erudition, eloquence, and authenticity that this man does."

When he learned he won, a range of emotions hit, including a hint of sadness.

"This doesn't happen for people like me and where I'm from," he said. "You almost think, 'Why me?' "

His mother, he said, was proud and for a moment speechless, even more so when he showed her the distance between Philadelphia and Oxford on a map – nearly 3,500 miles.

Temple president Richard M. Englert called Hardeman's win a "historic moment."

"We could not be more proud of him," the president said, "and wish him the best as he leaves North Broad Street for Oxford and the next phase of his remarkable life."