Michelle Brown-Stafford and her husband waited until their son was 11 before agreeing to let him audit a college algebra course.
At 9, he'd begun to outpace his mother's homeschooling abilities in math and science and was studying literature from college textbooks.
Now 14, Stephen Stafford is approaching his junior year at Morehouse College, the prestigious Atlanta college for black men where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a 15-year-old freshman.
Stephen has been invited to speak at the St. Petersburg NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in June, a reflection of the rising interest in the suburban Atlanta teenager.
He's been interviewed by CNN. Oprah called. So did Katie Couric. Tyra Banks had him on her show. The Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution commending his achievements. A software company offered a job. Admirers follow him on Facebook.
He has an important message for children, Stephen said, and that is "trying to explain to them how important education really is."
It's the primary reason Ray Tampa, president of the local NAACP, invited Stephen to St. Petersburg.
"We want to celebrate the success of African-American students. Stephen is just one example of so many that are succeeding in so many tremendous ways," Tampa said.
"We believe he can serve as a role model for kids in our area."
Tampa and others also hope publicity about the 14-year-old prodigy can help dispel prevailing assumptions about African-American males.
"It's unfortunate that we still need these positive examples to offset the negative stereotypes and images of young black men," said Morehouse president Robert Franklin.
Nonetheless, he said, "I think that many black boys need examples of peers who are academic superstars."
Before his admission to Morehouse, Stephen was invited to audit an honors algebra class. He scored higher than his older classmates. He aced precalculus, too. Stephen, who turned 14 in April, is majoring in biology, math and computer science. He plans to become a doctor.
The teenager, who addresses adults as ma'am and sir, is not intimidated by older classmates. "They treat me like I'm just another student, actually."
"My whole life, I was hanging out around kids a lot older than I am, so it's really no different."
What does he do for fun?
"I play a lot of video games. I play on my computers. I play the drums. I do a lot of things," he answered.
His mother, who drives Stephen to classes, said he's still a boy. "His education takes place at Morehouse College, but he is allowed to be a 14-year-old at home. He still does his chores."
Brown-Stafford, 41, who has a four-year degree in business management, and her husband, Steve, 40, an electrical engineer, also have a daughter, Martinique, 17. She recently completed her first year at Georgia Southern University. Brown-Stafford said she and her husband tried sending their children to traditional school.
Stephen was homeschooled more than his older sister.
"We had to keep track of Stephen because he is an African-American male, and we didn't want to lose him and we didn't want him to become a statistic," his mother said.
Stephen's mother, who has a website, gifted-spirit.com, to advise other parents, has a message for fellow African-Americans: "Know where your child is academically. Do whatever you can to get the resources to keep them learning at their natural pace and at their natural ability."
Franklin praises Stephen's parents for their commitment. "He really embodies something we have tried to promote at Morehouse, particularly for kids in urban communities — that being smart is cool and that parental investment in their children's academic growth pays dividends," Franklin said.
Since November, Stephen has made about 20 appearances. His fee is "under $500'' to make it affordable for schools, his mother said.
Stephen is undaunted by his speaking engagements, but, he said, "I'm thinking, when can I get back home and play my video games?"
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.