When you meet Lorenzo Daniel, Jr. (LJ, for short), you suddenly understand what the term “natural born leader” means. A self-described people person with innate charisma — and a 6-foot athletic frame that makes him hard to forget — the 2017 Coca-Cola Scholar embraced leadership roles at his high school in Highland Village, Texas, a suburb outside Dallas, counting captain of the basketball and track teams as well as Vice President of the Spanish Honors Society and the Black History Club among his many accolades.
Hardly a self-serving overachiever, “I want to make an impact,” is the refrain woven throughout LJ’s personal narrative, a desire that’s been bolstered in part by his black heritage, and a desire to challenge common perceptions of what it means to be black today — especially for students. “My school was only like 2 percent black. When I was younger, if I got the best grade on a test, people would tell me I wasn’t black, or how could I be black because I’m smart?” he says. “Then it hit me — I am who I am and that is how I’m going to make a difference. I can stand out and show that we don’t have to be who people think we are.”
That innate self-confidence allows Lorenzo to connect easily with all kinds of students, and bring out the best in who they are. Like his friend, Ben, a junior, Black History Club member, and the only African-American involved in theater at his school. “I went over to his house recently and we were just hanging out and talking and he said ‘I want to thank you so much because you’re representing us, and it’s really changed my outlook,’” LJ shares. “It’s an honor to I know I made a difference, just with this one kid.”
LJ has worked to make a difference among his peers in athletics, too. “In my school, African-Americans have trouble with staying eligible for sports because of their grades, so I started In the Game, a tutoring organization, and we work with students every week to keep them in,” he explains. “Sometimes education isn’t valued as much as athletics, so that’s what they focus on. We reiterate that putting in the work in the classroom is important, too. One of my best friends struggles with math. He’s on the basketball team, and we need him! So working with him has been fun.”
The importance of the team over the individual is a lesson LJ knows well. At the end of his sophomore year he suffered a hip fracture during a track meet. The injury meant he would be out of commission for months — and LJ was stricken with the thought of having disappointed his teammates. “I couldn’t lead by example anymore, anchoring our relay or leading our workouts. So I had to work on a different aspect of who I was … I wasn’t just a runner,” he explains — and credits his teammates with supporting his recovery. “It was amazing seeing their ability to remain so optimistic after something so devastating,” LJ says. “It was a reminder that after all the hard work we’d put in, we could keep going … that together we’re one.”
Now fully recovered from his hip injury, LJ will be proving his leadership potential at college — on and off the track. He just started as a freshman at Harvard and has made the Ivy’s Track & Field team roster. “I’m ready to get involved and see what I can do in the community here!” he says. “I like to get to interact with different people and learn more about them, understand motives and different personas and tendencies; that’s what makes you a leader,” he adds.
“Being smart is one thing, but it’s another to be able to unite a diverse number of people.”
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation celebrates and empowers visionary leaders who are refreshing the world. With its 29th class of Coca-Cola Scholars, the Foundation has provided more than $63 million in scholarships to 5,877 program alumni who together have become a powerful force for positive change.
You could be part of the 30th class! Current high school seniors may apply to be Coca-Cola Scholars using this link through October 31, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern. Learn more at www.coca‑colascholars.org.