Paxton Baker didn’t begin to show promise until after high school.
During a visit to Mississippi State University, he said he didn’t 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.
“There’s nothing about my life that’s been prolific that anybody else can’t do if they apply themselves,” Baker said. “You just need to be more prepared and focused now than you had to before.”
Baker came to MSU Thursday to share his business experience with students and other members of the community as part of the university’s 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 today’s modern world, and the connections he had built played a big part in his success.
“Many people I’ve known for 20-30 years have helped me throughout my life, people who have made recommendations for me,” Baker said. “One of the things I told students was, ‘Go beyond yourself. Let bashfulness take a back seat.’”
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.
“I made a lot of mistakes as a young person,” Baker said. “I consider myself an American story, but I don’t know if ‘Paxton Baker’ could happen again.”
Baker said Mississippi had also changed — 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.
“I have not been to Mississippi since about 1976 or 1977,” Baker said. “When 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.”
John Forde, head of MSU’s Department of Communication, said Baker’s visit had been in the works for months, starting when MSU president Mark Keenum invited Baker at the U.S. Congressional Awards.
“Folks on campus have been working a long time to get him here,” Forde said. “He’s had such a wide variety of experience. You don’t meet people that often who will talk about (getting to meet) Nelson Mandela.”
Eva White, assistant dean of students at MSU, said the committee that brought Baker to Starkville was a combination of staff from the president’s office and the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center. She said Baker fit well into MSU’s other Black History Month events.
“We think, as a leader, he’s a great example to our students,” White said. “The perfect thing to do was to bring him in and allow students to pick his brain.”
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, “I am a ‘young’ 50-year-old, and I continue to be inspired by young people on a regular basis.”