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Meet Haley Taylor Schlitz: The 16-Year-Old Law Student and Advocate for Accessible Education

“You don't just find your path, you make it.”

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In a lot of ways, Haley Taylor Schlitz is your average 16-year-old. She likes playing Fortnite, hanging out with her friends, and re-watching Black Panther. But unlike most teenagers, Haley is already a college graduate, on her way to law school this upcoming fall.

“[People] are pleasantly surprised the majority of the time, and then they'll ask a whole bunch of questions,” Taylor Schlitz, a DoSomething member, told us. “I love answering them, and I really don't mind. We always have a conversation about how and why.”

As for how she did it, the answer is straightforward enough: Haley is incredibly gifted. She graduated high school at 13, finished college in the years following, and recently got accepted to nine different law programs. Her fast-tracked education has recently drawn a lot of attention from places like Good Morning America, but her path hasn’t always been so supported.

In elementary school, Haley wasn’t allowed to test for her school’s “gifted and talented” program. According to Haley, her Texas public school only allowed students to apply when they were in kindergarten. Because she had moved from California after kindergarten, she didn’t qualify.

“The thing was, there were other students who were not of color who were testing for the ‘gifted and talented’ program and getting in [who were] in my same grade,” Haley said. “It doesn't make much sense. I feel like...they didn't believe that I was gifted. It was like, 'No, you don't need to take the test because we already know the answer.'”

Haley’s mom, Dr. Myiesha Taylor, saw the value in a strong education, and she was well aware of her daughter’s academic potential. She eventually made the decision to pull Haley from public school and have her tested privately.

“I came back as highly gifted, and then [my mom] homeschooled me,” Haley said. “When I started homeschooling, I realized just how fun it is to be challenged at my own level, going at my own pace. That's when I was really inspired to just go full speed ahead.”

And she certainly did just that. Haley breezed through high school, and by her early teens, she was applying for college. She soon attended Texas Woman's University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. Along the way, she also participated in the college’s student senate, the Center for Student Leadership, and the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

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Haley with her parents and siblings

“One of the biggest challenges for me was overcoming the people who kept trying to stop me -- a teacher who doesn't think that I should be 13 and in college, or the friend or classmate or mentor who doesn't think I should be doing what I am,” Haley said. “It's always difficult to just ignore the haters, especially when some people have decision-making power, but I knew I could handle it. I don't really care if people think that I can't do what I'm doing because I know I can.”

Haley is headed to Southern Methodist University in the fall for law school, and she has a lot of goals for herself and her career, most of them grounded in her passion for education and accessibility. Her plan is to practice law, eventually become a professor, and start a school.

“Children of color in our education system...don’t have [equal] opportunity,” Haley says. “I want to help change that. Increase the diversity of the ‘gifted and talented’ programs; change it so that teachers actually have high expectations for students of color; diversify the teacher workforce; change the public school system.”

Her experiences navigating the public school system as a student of color motivate Haley to advocate for other young people like her. She recently participated in DoSomething’s #RedefineBlack campaign, in partnership with My Black is Beautiful, through which young people compelled Dictionary.com to change its definition of “Black”/”black.” Haley shared her story as “#BlackGirlInspiration.”

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“There's a lot of negative connotations with the word ‘black.’ All the bad guys in videos and TV shows are Black, and all the good guys have blue eyes and white cloaks,” Haley said.

“'Black’ isn't negative like it's made out to be. I'm going to redefine black as beautiful, strong, and confident.”

Haley’s journey has been uniquely her own, and she’s unapologetically defined her narrative. She has a lot to be proud of academically, and she’s also a talented artist, harp player, and published author. Some may wonder where Haley finds the time or the energy to do the things she does, but she has a few words of advice for anyone aspiring to do the same.

“You don't just find your path, you make it. You're not just walking down the street one day and all of a sudden, you're hit with the realization of what you want to do with the rest of your life,” Haley said. “But if you're making your path, you get to choose what you want to do, where you want to go, and that's motivating to me. You control your life.”

#RedefineBlack

Join Haley and press dictionaries to create a more racially inclusive definition of “Black.”

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