Setting the example takes the idea of being the example to another level.
Too often we hear stories of how children of color don’t have enough examples of success stories outside of athletes and entertainers. However, in Metro Atlanta, there are still amazing success stories including the Honorable Devetrion Caldwell. Mr. Caldwell is the youngest elected official of the Douglass County School Board in Georgia. He is an example of how our youth can be young, black and gifted in spite of road blocks. Devetrion shares some of his journey with us. Below he speaks on why it’s important for all black students to know that they are young, black and gifted.
November 8, 2016 changed my life tremendously. Prior to the moment it was announced that l would hold the seat of Douglas County Board of Education District 1, my heart and mind were both in the race for the finish line. Now, I’m here! My new role as an elected official in Douglas County has been very rewarding. I am overwhelmingly grateful for being given the opportunity to influence decisions and policies that will positively affect the lives of many. As the youngest elected official in Douglas County, and also one of the youngest school board members in the state of Georgia, I did not only win but I made history. History that will empower my family and my community to continue setting goals and exceeding them. I want my journey to remind our young black youth of an important value in our culture. The success of one is the accomplishment of all. I believe that our children have to see us leading in all areas of education to show how important and life changing learning is.
I’ve learned a lot from my very first year serving as a public figure and elected school board member. As youth moving into leadership roles and in the work place its imperative we understand time and space. Being mindful of social media usage, events you attend, people you are connected to and being on top of your goals all play a more intricate role in your life. It is true! Lessons that we learned even as young as middle school matter when you become an adult. Everything isn’t just going to be smooth sailing and fun. It’s important to me for youth to understand that they can have fun and engage in social activities like others. I do! I’m also mindful of the activities and things that I engage in that can be harmful to the example of excellence I represent.
Many black students shun away from being a leader because they feel like it’s not fun. Unfortunately, leaders do get a stigma of having boring lives. I want young people to understand that you create your own fun and happiness. For me, being a young leader means I simply must focus a lot of energy on time management, goal setting and being prepared. For example, in my current role I plan to further engage families and community stakeholders by hosting more collaborative sessions discussing the roles and management of the school board. I’ve learned in my role that because of my age, it is even more critical for me to have candid dialogue on policies and how they work with stakeholders. As a leader, you cannot be afraid of failure and most importantly doing the work. The shortcomings are what help you to grow and become even more effective in your position. As a young leader, I want students to see me and say,” I can!” and no longer say never mind to being a leader. There will be challenges, but you cannot let you fear hold you back from being in positions others may say you don’t have the experience to do. Don’t let your youthfulness keep you in the back seat or from taking advance or great opportunities.
It has been often said, being born black and a male in American society presents inevitable “strikes” against you. The stereotypes of blackness do cause black students to have lower self-esteem. I was also told that being a black millennial gives you no advances in this society! I have witnessed both desirable and undesirable encounters as a black male. Being observed as unqualified and unknowing or not having any validation at all to simply being perceived as having all knowledge and understanding. I constantly have to reassure people who I’m not the stereotype that comes with being a black male in America. It’s a lot of pressure being a black youth. Growing up, I experienced many times that I was treated differently because of the darkness of my skin. I know how difficult it can be for young, black students who want to enter into fields that don’t have people who resemble you. However, you must be confident in being young and black. I have been afforded a myriad of opportunities to offer traditional and non traditional prospects on life, education and politics. As a black millennial, I have witnessed first hand how life has the ability present unfavorable outcomes. But, with great courage, support and determination there are no limits on what can be obtained. This is the message I want to share through my work as an elected official for Black students. Making history in Douglas County and the state of Georgia serves only as an accomplishment if I have inspired the lives and minds of little black and brown boys and girls in Douglas County and ultimately change the world.
2017 was filled with many outstanding accomplishments including; being named by the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce as one of the “Top 10 Young Professionals of 2017 for Douglas County and being selected for Georgia Forward’s “Young Gamechangers 2018″ class. I have also taken on new roles such as becoming a board member for several non-profit agencies. I want students to know that it’s not the accomplishments that make me gifted! It’s your gifts and talents that make you unique. What you bring to table, the classroom, board room and to society is special. There’s nothing wrong with being unique. Don’t let the labels that society and other people give you define who you are. You must be confident in who you are! Let you gifts show the world who you are and not a stereotype.
Being young, black and gifted is special! Although it’s more challenging for black youth to see hope in our society where we’re still fighting against injustice, we must show them it is not impossible. Black youth are watching the leaders of today. They are waiting to see how we will effectively address racial profiling, sexism, inequality and injustice. It is up to us to teach them how they can make tomorrow even better. It will take leaders to celebrate the rich and unique differences in all of our cultural beliefs and gifts to empower them. It’s important to me that our black youth to be at the decision-making tables. I want black and brown students to know that they too can be in positions that influence and make changes to how we live and learn together. In order for us to see the greatness within them, they must first see it within us. I encourage my peers to take their places and be the example.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.