As part of our New Power Fellowship Program, Teach For America Oklahoma City asked corps members to share stories of impact in their journey to education advocacy.
I was the classic "good student." I knew early on that my education was important to me and wanted to maximize the opportunities that it could provide. In fact, I graduated valedictorian of my high school class, a honor that I promised myself I would obtain when I was in 9th grade.
However, I learned shortly before I graduated that I was labelled as "mentally delayed" during my primary school years. It is important to note that I found this out days before I delivered my valedictorian speech. All of the sudden, memories of me being pulled out of class and receiving extra instruction in the 1st and 2nd grades started to make sense. I realized I was being pulled out so I could be pulled up academically. I was genuinely shocked because it didn't make sense. How did I go from being behind to being the front of the graduation line as valedictorian? After a moment of reflection, I became even more proud of my accomplishment. I was grateful for those who decided to give me a chance. I was touched to know someone thought to themselves “one day, D’Angelo will get it. One day.”
Despite where I started, I went to college and graduated debt-free, fulfilling a promise to myself that I would work hard and make someone see me "good investment." While in college, higher education was my passion. Orientation, admission and housing were just some of the offices I worked with because I wanted to help with process of finding a home for students. I left UNC-Chapel Hill with a bachelor's in public relations and a minor in education. The minor in education is why I am a member of Teach for America. The curriculum had us talk about what was going on in the educational system. Long story short: America's education system has room for improvement. I wanted kids to enjoy the joys of college when they can't be guaranteed the same opportunities as the more affluent. I then realized that if I wanted to see them succeed in college, they’d have to first navigate the pre-K/K-12 system.
So with that, I packed up my car and made the 16 hour move from D'Angelo: the college graduate, to become D'Angelo, school teacher. One label for another, or so I thought initially. Later I’d learn I wasn’t giving up one for the other, but rather adding another piece of who I am. Labels stick with you, regardless of whether you place them there or society does. However, it is important to remember you are more than one designation. And I’m more than that kid who was categorized as “mentally delayed.” I am the valedictorian of Anson High School’s Class of 2014. I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am Mr. Gatewood, corps member of Teach for America. I am all of these things and many more to come. So, what about you? Who are you?