“Trouble is easy to get into, but hard to get out of.”
“Don’t let temporary people in your life, cause permanent problems.”
“Plan for greatness every day.”
Those were among the many messages of wisdom and encouragement delivered by Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Chief Schools Officer Dr. Donyall Dickey to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade male students at Hutchinson Elementary School as a part of its male mentoring program called W.A.R.R.I.O.R., which stands for “We Are Relevant Respectful Individuals of Righteousness.”
The initiative is the brainchild of Hutchinson physical education teacher Dr. John Beliard. He came up with the idea because he wanted to counteract many of the negative portrayals and images of black males in the media and in other areas of society. Along with Dr. Dickey, other guest speakers have included APS Core Content Instructional Specialist Dr. Bobby Allen and Atlanta Board of Education At-Large Seat 9 Representative Jason Esteves.
The students are asked to wear a shirt and tie for the sessions, as are the speakers. Twice a month, the male faculty and staff members at Hutchinson meet with the students in the school gym to reinforce the value of education, appropriate behavior and social interaction with peers, and being respectful to adults and law enforcement.
“The images of black men in our society that are perpetuated to these kids too often involve guns, violence, violence toward women and so much that is negative,” Dr. Beliard said. “Unfortunately in this community, those images can be reinforced with what they see. Some of them think it’s normal, cool to be in jail, breaking in cars. Most of them don’t have a father at home, and so here at school is the best place for them to see role models.”
Dr. Beliard said Hutchinson Principal Dr. Shuanta Broadway has been a huge supporter of the initiative from Day One.
“A lot of the behavioral issues we deal with here in school are a result of what is going on at home,” Dr. Broadway said. “I can see that our suspension rate is down, and I think the program is helping students make better decisions.”
Dr. Dickey is a living, breathing example of the importance of making good decisions. He grew up in Texas without a father and with a drug-addicted mother. He was raised by his grandmother in a house so small that he had to sleep on the floor in the living room throughout middle school and high school. But he made a decision to focus on education as his way to a better life.
“I wanted to make a personal connection with them and impress upon them the importance of education,” said Dr. Dickey, who has earned degrees from the University of Texas in Austin, Loyola University (Maryland) and George Washington University. “When you are their age, you don’t see how what you are doing in school now is connected to adult outcomes. High school graduation, certainly, and college are the gatekeepers for a productive life. I want to make sure I am doing everything I can do to make sure our students know that.”
Dr. Allen echoed Dr. Dickey’s sentiments when he spoke to the students. Like Dr. Dickey, the path to his success included a key decision and education as well.
“When I was a junior in high school, our counselor looked at my school record and told me to go into the military. I took advantage of that opportunity, but I also made the decision to be more focused as a student and get a college education as well,” said Dr. Allen, who grew up in Yazoo City, MS, and has earned four degrees. “I want to make sure I steer as many of our students as possible in the right direction.”
“When they see these men who look like them, it sends the message to them that you can do it, too,” said Dr. Beliard, who is working on a fifth degree. “We want this program to help them change their lives and their futures for the better.”