*If you hail from the Chicago area, you have probably heard of child prodigy Dorothy Jean Tillman, II and now it is time to spread the word about this hardworking young woman.
The 12-year-old, affectionately known as DJ, has made a name for herself as a tech guru, arts enthusiast, eager young leader, and now a college graduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities just weeks ago. Now while not everyone may be able to succeed as early as she has, to hear her tell it, one can certainly try.
“Have as much fun as you can in school,” the only child told Lee Bailey in a recent phone interview. “If it’s a thing you’re looking forward to everyday it won’t seem like a chore. It is something that will better you and help you along in the course of your life. Be in activities and do after school projects with your friends.”
While so many young people, especially people of color, are being pushed toward majoring in science and math, DJ went the route she did because, “I love exploring my options and looking around at everything. That’s one of the reasons I chose humanities as my major because it’s the study of everything. It’s such an open subject and I don’t like being constricted.”
DJ did have her share of math and science while growing up. Before the age of five, she was excelling at math, science, and reading chapter books. Of course, she knows how to code with the best of them and it should not be a surprise that she is already a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Prior to earning her bachelor’s degree, she earned an associate’s degree in theater arts and enrolled in online college courses at schools such as Stanford University. Other honors include the Teenpreneur Leadership award, State of Illinois Educational Achievement award, and an NSBE Jr. award for Outstanding Achievement. DJ’s mom, Jimalita Tillman, knew at an early age that her daughter was special.
“One of the things we noticed about Dorothy really early was the ability to grasp information a lot faster than her peer group,” said Tillman. “She would always be around her (older) cousins and took a lot of interest in their homework. She wanted to keep up with the big kids and with that came wanting to learn more. So, me, my mom, and my husband worked to get her into as many programs as possible while still allowing her to socialize with youth her age.”
DJ’s mom added that now that her daughter has stepped out into the real world, real societal problems have shown up a bit earlier than expected.
“Like black men have to learn about being a black man in America, we have to learn how to be black women in America,” said Tillman. “My daughter has to deal with racism, sexism, and ageism. You had professors who seemed to go harder at her than the other students. So, she had a tough learning curve early and it has made her stronger.”
With so many accomplishments already under her belt, DJ’s plan for the future is, “getting my master’s degree in environmental engineering.”
Her mom added, “I asked her why environmental engineering and she expressed that a black girl that she saw in Flint, Michigan had brown water and she wanted to make a difference. (Actor) Hill Harper has invited her to come out this summer to Michigan to help with his clean water program.”
Dorothy Jean Tillman, II knows that she will excel at whatever she does and she is not leaving anyone behind. She does her part in a variety of community and church programs that help other black youth succeed. Her volunteerism has been hailed by organizations including Chance the Rapper’s Social Works Chicago and Project I Am, founded by child philanthropist Jahkil Jackson, who helps homeless families. To follow DJ, go to her Instagram here.