It doesn't take long to realize that Brandon Smith is a upstanding teenager with a big heart and talent for math and science.
He'll be a senior at South Mecklenburg High, and though he's pondering a career in engineering, he's loved books since he was a toddler listening to his parents read stories that carried him beyond Charlotte.
He wants that for every kid, no matter their condition.
So he's spent the summer orchestrating a drive to collect as many books (K-5 grade levels) as he can to donate to two dozen Teach for America teachers who'll be presiding over classes at high poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools during the approaching school year.
Last count, he's stacked and boxed about 1,500 books in his family's dining room.
In case you're wondering, this is not some community service project to satisfy a school requirement -- his school has no such requirement. Brandon's doing it because he believes every child ought to have the same opportunities no matter where they go to school.
And books, he said, can spark a dream.
"I love that you can get lost in books, and that they can take you other places," Brandon, 17, said. "They open up the imagination; they're just fun."
Teach for America teachers are recent college graduates who commit to two years in classrooms at urban or rural high-poverty schools. "I looked at the program and loved what it is doing," he said. "Since they weren't necessarily planning to teach, they have a need for books."
Brandon (pictured above) has seen the disparity in resources from school to school. He went to Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, a high-poverty school (at least three-fourths of students get lunch aid) where his mother works as a teacher's assistant, and then moved to Carmel Middle School.
"The biggest thing I noticed was that while the teachers at both schools were so great, the resources readily available were different," he said. "I want to see kids at high-poverty schools get the same education and the same resources as a school like Carmel.
"I felt I could put books in the hands of teachers who can put them in the hands of students who need them the most."
He said he gets this yearn to give back from his parents and his church, First Baptist uptown. With the church, he's gone on mission trips to New York and Chicago to help with back-yard bible schools in slums. And to New Orleans last year to aid the rebuilding effort.
He's also fully aware that he comes from a comfortable, supportive family and doesn't have to worry about his next meal, or bullets flying through his neighborhood.
Brandon started planning his drive in May, when school was still in, and collected a couple hundred from classmates. Then he made a pitch to his church and neighborhood association in south Charlotte.
Some offered up donations, and Brandon approached bookstore owners to buy books at a discount. He and his family and friends have gone through each book to make sure they're in good shape and "appropriate." They've begun to sort them by grade. He hopes to parcel out the books to teacher before school starts, but will continue collecting probably through September.
"I was taught to go out and make a difference however I can, and to give back to the community whenever I can," Brandon said. "I can't change the world, but I can do this one thing that might spark an idea in a child."
If you've been meaning to find a good spot for that box of books gathering dust in the attic, give Brandon a call at 704-608-6797. He'll put them in the proper hands -- and minds.