Paxton Baker didnât begin to show promise until after high school.
During a visit to Mississippi State University, he said he didnât excel as a student until after attending community college, taking remedial courses to make up for his poor high school record. But, when he reached Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn., he became a radio DJ, then started his own talk shows, then started producing his own television shows.
Now, he stands at the top of the entertainment business.
âThereâs nothing about my life thatâs been prolific that anybody else canât do if they apply themselves,â Baker said. âYou just need to be more prepared and focused now than you had to before.â
Baker came to MSU Thursday to share his business experience with students and other members of the community as part of the universityâs celebration of Black History Month.
He is vice president of CENTRIC, once called BET Jazz, and president of BET Event Productions. He also serves as chairman of the U.S. Congressional Award, chairman of the Viacom Marketing Council and founding partner and minority owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team.
Baker said he advised students to build connections. He said they had no room to be shy in todayâs modern world, and the connections he had built played a big part in his success.
âMany people Iâve known for 20-30 years have helped me throughout my life, people who have made recommendations for me,â Baker said. âOne of the things I told students was, âGo beyond yourself. Let bashfulness take a back seat.ââ
However, Baker said the margin of error for young people was tighter today than in his youth. For example, he said, he had read this week about Nick Stuban, a 15-year-old student at W.T. Woodson High School in northern Virginia who was suspended for seven weeks after buying one synthetic marijuana pill. After weeks of isolation from his circle of friends, Stuban committed suicide, leading Maryland officials to ask schools to review their disciplinary policies, according to reports in The Washington Post.
âI made a lot of mistakes as a young person,â Baker said. âI consider myself an American story, but I donât know if âPaxton Bakerâ could happen again.â
Baker said Mississippi had also changed â for the better. He said his visit to MSU and Starkville was his first, as well as his first visit to this state in years.
âI have not been to Mississippi since about 1976 or 1977,â Baker said. âWhen I flew in, I did not have a modern picture of Mississippi in mind. I was thankful for some of the changes I had seen, and it motivated me.â
John Forde, head of MSUâs Department of Communication, said Bakerâs visit had been in the works for months, starting when MSU president Mark Keenum invited Baker at the U.S. Congressional Awards.
âFolks on campus have been working a long time to get him here,â Forde said. âHeâs had such a wide variety of experience. You donât meet people that often who will talk about (getting to meet) Nelson Mandela.â
Eva White, assistant dean of students at MSU, said the committee that brought Baker to Starkville was a combination of staff from the presidentâs office and the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center. She said Baker fit well into MSUâs other Black History Month events.
âWe think, as a leader, heâs a great example to our students,â White said. âThe perfect thing to do was to bring him in and allow students to pick his brain.â
In fact, Baker said, even as he works to inspire young people, they inspire him back. He said, for instance, that the youth uprisings in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran inspired him, especially for their ingenuity with social networks like Facebook.
He said, âI am a âyoungâ 50-year-old, and I continue to be inspired by young people on a regular basis.â