Determination, friendship and ‘good heart’ help Bryant-Jordan winner overcome neglect
After hearing the life story of Sylvania High School Senior Styles Hughes, a question comes to mind: how did he become a 3.7 GPA student, All-DeKalb County football player , a Faulkner University football signee?
After hearing about him and some of his relatives, you learn that he is a thoughtful teenager who overcame challenges that, unfortunately, too many young people face.
Here’s how he said it in the introduction to his nomination story for the 2022 Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program Achievement Award:
“I was a child born into this world with many challenges. My father never married my mother and has not been a part of my life for the past 18 years. He has had several stints in prison and suffers from drug addiction. My mother was unprepared to be a mother and also faced many addictions. She still deals with drug and alcohol addiction today.
Hughes is a regional winner in the Achievement category of the Bryant-Jordan Foundation Scholarship Program, which honors senior athletes who have overcome personal adversity to excel. All regional winners receive a cash prize of $3,000 and could win more at Monday’s annual awards banquet at the Sheraton Birmingham.
“I think what made me excel was seeing what my mom was doing,” Hughes told AL.com. “When she was in high school, she was very smart; she had a 3.6, 3.7 GPA. I saw how far she went in my early years and wanted to strive to be better.
As a young boy, Hughes’ life was full of uncertainty and, at times, fear. He and his mother moved house 22 times before his 13th birthday. Strangers in her home were a constant – along with drug and alcohol use. He remembered once when he saw his mother being strangled by a boyfriend. “I thought he was going to end his life and I had to intervene. He was holding her by the throat and his feet were off the ground. To this day I can still see his face turning purple and blue. I I was only 5 or 6 so I really don’t know how I managed to get her away from her, but I did.
Another time, someone robbed her house, taking all her clothes, shoes, video games and television.
Food insecurity was a constant in her young life. He said he rarely had regular meals at home and there were often “eight or nine people living with us at the same time”, all eating whatever food was available. School lunches were the only regular meals Hughes had.
Hughes found refuge with his maternal grandparents, but when they lost their custody claim in court, his mother wandered an hour away from them and her visits were curtailed. Eventually he was able to live with them – but his grandfather died when Hughes was around 13. The youngster stayed with his grandmother, Patsy, but she suffered a massive stroke near the end of her freshman year in high school and ended up in a nursing home.
“I call him a lot and go to visit him often,” Hughes said. “Right now it’s hard for her to walk. She has to use a walker and most of the time she is in a wheelchair.
“My grandmother always tried to make sure I was taken care of, until the bitter end when she couldn’t. She took me to school every day, to Football and baseball practice every day was a great thing.
“She told me she’d had failures in her life and she said I could be much, much better – even better than she was,” Hughes said. “She said to use my mother as an example and to rise above it. She told me to persevere in adversity.
After his grandmother’s stroke, Hughes found a lifeline through his friendship with football teammate Brett Sims.
“Styles is friends with my son and I guess I would say my son has a really big heart,” Scarlett Sims said. “Brett noticed that things weren’t going the way they should. I think he felt very charged. I think he first felt it when Styles didn’t get anything for Christmas. He wanted to spend his money looking for Styles. This is the first way we got involved.
Hughes said he started staying with the Sims the weekend after his first season of football. “Then it got longer and longer and I started staying during the school week,” he said. “After my grandmother’s stroke, I couldn’t be with any blood family. I had to find a way out and one of my buddies’ mother offered me a way out. I was greatly blessed by this.
Sims said she noticed Hughes needed clothes and other essentials. “I think he was home alone at times without food for long periods of time. Sometimes he would call and just ask my son to pick him up.
“I realized how bad the problems were when I bought him clothes and saw he had lost 20 pounds. It became a reality that it had to be more than just a friendship.
Hughes said that in addition to her grandmother, one of her biggest role models is Brett’s father, Robbie, vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. “I greatly admire her,” he said. “I see how he perseveres in his very stressful job. He’s able to stay cool under pressure, it’s just how he lives his day to day life. He’s so laid back and has a feeling that everything will be fine. I like that about him.”
The sport also comforted Hughes, who was named captain of the Rams football team this season and won honors from all regions.
“When I was little I saw pee-wee baseball, I thought it was cool and I wanted to try it,” he said. “My uncle was a really good receiver and kicker for Sylvania and I thought if he did that, it must be cool and it must be something I should try.
“Later, when I went through what I had to go through, I saw the sport as an outlet. I would come to the lodge a little earlier, stay later and work harder. It was a place where I could hang out and relax for a while.
Hughes said his coaches were unaware of his home life until the summer before his sophomore year when “they noticed something was wrong. They asked the question and I told them. I am an open book. They were very supportive and offered to help.
In his letter supporting Hughes’ nomination for the Bryant-Jordan Award, baseball coach Ian Richards said, “Styles has overcome so much more than a teenager should, and yet he’s an excellent student, an excellent athlete. and a leader in both his school and his community. …Styles truly has the most generous, compassionate, kind heart of any kid I’ve had the honor of coaching.
“Styles deserves the best this life has to offer because he worked tirelessly and earned everything he was given. He might have been bitter from past experiences in his life, but he chose to live a life of service and is a pleasure for others.
Sims, a K-3 reading specialist at Sylvania, said Hughes “has a huge heart.”
“He’s very quiet and reserved,” she said. “He is a deep thinker. It’s like “yes ma’am, no ma’am”. Everything I ask, he does. All the years he was in our house, he never said anything bad about his mother or his father or the cards he was given.
Hughes has plans for college besides football. He is thinking of specializing in commerce. “I would like to open my own business or pursue a career in real estate,” he said. He plans to continue working through the summer – Hughes said Sims often finds the two boys at home doing odd jobs in the community now – and he hopes he can “give back to my community and help someone who has faced to the challenges I have.
“I treat people the way I want to be treated,” he said. “That goes for everyone. I have friends who are in a band, who play football and baseball. I am friends with at least 90% of the students in my class.
“Sometimes I speak with kids in seventh or eighth grade – some of them are in the same situation as me or maybe mine wasn’t as bad as theirs. I tell them to keep your head up and you’ll be fine, stay determined and keep working and you’ll be fine.