Growing up on the east side of Buffalo in municipal housing, as long as I can remember, the greatest point of college entry and later success was through sports. However, unlike most kids in my neighborhood whose end goal was to play for the NFL or the NBA, I wanted to be like my dad. He was a hard worker; a God-fearing man who treasured his family above all. Like many other African American men in my community, college was not an option for him. Nonetheless, he did everything he could to make ends meet.
I will never forget the one day when life would change forever. I was eleven years old, my older sister and I were arguing as usual over whose grades were better. We were being cared for by my grandmother. It was hours after we arrived at her house that she received the call that our parents were in a car accident. This unparalleled tragedy left my mother paralyzed and our family as we knew it would never be the same.
My mother who was an important contributor to the family income was no longer able to work. I found my life mirroring the same harsh realities that many other children growing up in single homes were facing. My older sister did the best she could to pick up where my mom left off and I had to literally grow up overnight. My father being the strong man he is, tried his best to maintain the lifestyle we had before the accident. He never stopped giving everything of himself and came home every day with a smile.
Following a path of many of the children in my neighborhood, sports became a way to manage my stress during adolescence. For a few hours a day I could forget about the accident. For a few hours, I could forget about life. For a few hours, nothing else seemed to matter.
Adolescence breezed by and eventually I found myself being recruited by the biggest colleges and universities in New York and Ohio. At the time, I had no idea how fortunate I was. Despite the circumstances, despite my neighborhood, despite the tragedy, here I was a Black boy from the projects going to college. While I was deciding between Syracuse and Buffalo, the friends I grew up with were struggling to graduate from high school, were in and out of jail and some were even dead.
At the age of fifteen, I remember physically carrying my mother to the car for therapy and watching her go through arduous training to regain strength and feeling in her legs. The process for her was difficult, but those moments of watching her stand up holding onto the walker were priceless. I can still recall my dad vehemently on his knees praying for a miracle and the strength to overcome life’s difficulties. Watching my mother and father taught me to fight, persevere and never give up.
After a successful Arena Football career, I decided to go back to school to pursue a teaching career. Regardless of everything I had been through there was one thing that resonated with me, education is the greatest way to overcome poverty. I wanted to inspire children from similar backgrounds to use the gift of education to mobilize their lives. I received my first job as a para professional at Buffalo United Charter School and my professional career was born.
It was through teaching I found my passion in making a difference in the lives of others. However, I wanted to do more. I wanted to change the way students learned. I wanted to change school culture and the best way to create that type of change is to develop teachers to become leaders. After a few years of teaching I became an assistant principal for the Buffalo City School district. Eventually I landed my first administration position as the Principal of MST Preparatory High School and Middle School.
My life experience, although quite difficult, gave me resilience and has provided me the opportunity to share my story with other students, teachers and families who feel as if they have been dealt a bad hand. Today, I am the Principal of Sweet Home Middle School.
In my first week as the new Principal of Sweet Home Middle School, I was approached by my secretary who stated, “There’s something different about you and people love it.” I wrestled with that statement, but understood its complexities. My father set the stage for consistency, hard work, resilience and love. Entering college through sports, although cliché, became the pathway prepared for me by the guidance of a father.
Mother Theresa says, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Day in and day out, my father did just that. Now as a Principal I tell aspiring talent, if you want to change the world, become a teacher and love your students.
I look forward to continuing to love my new Sweet Home family and impacting the lives of all. At Sweet Home Middle School, “We strive for excellence one step at a time.”
I’m thankful for the impact of love.