#190 – From Trials to Triumph, with Dé Kwaan Wynn

Unpacking Education June 7, 2023 42 min

“Every week, you’re within arm’s reach of a kid who needs to hear the right words to get them looking in the right direction,” says our guest, Dé Kwaan Wynn. He continues, “And kids need a light these days, so do your best to be that for them.”

This message rings true throughout this episode as Dé Kwaan shares his story. It’s a story that begins with his earliest memory of a SWAT team breaking down the door of his family apartment and arresting his mother. It’s a story about an academically gifted child who struggled with behavior in school. Ultimately, it’s a story of teachers who helped Dé Kwaan see his worth and helped steer him in the right direction, so he could use his gifts and fulfill his potential.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

There is no greater power and support you can give someone than to look them in the eye, and with sincerity/conviction say, ‘I believe in you.’

Ken Poirot, author of Mentor Me

More Than a Job Title

As an adult, Dé Kwaan regularly visits schools and speaks to educators about his childhood experiences and the impact that teachers can make on a student’s life. He says, “I usually tell the educators to be more than your job title.”

Scenes from Dé Kwaan’s life show the positive impact of teachers who went above and beyond academics to help guide him to success. They saw his talents and helped him to believe that he could be successful. Dé Kwaan recalls, “I remember in day care hearing that there is no hope for me, and then senior year, I was told that there may be hope, and I literally can never forget that.”

Having people believe in him and help him to believe in himself changed the trajectory of his life. He went from getting in trouble to graduating with honors and earning a master’s degree in computer science. Tune in to this episode to hear more about Dé Kwaan’s journey to success. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Dé Kwaan Wynn is a former AVID student. As a child, his mother was in and out of jail. With the help of supportive teachers like those he met in the AVID program, Dé Kwaan took advantage of his academic skills and graduated from high school with honors. He then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in computer science. He currently works as a computer programmer and speaks at schools across the country, working to make a difference in the lives of students.
  • First Memory: Dé Kwaan’s earliest memory is from when he was four years old and witnessed his mother being arrested by a SWAT team.
  • Good Grades and a Bit of Trouble: While academics were never a problem for Dé Kwaan, he did get into behavioral trouble throughout his early years of school. He says, “Grades never slipped. I never had an issue with that. School was easy.” He adds, “Because of that feeling, I guess I was what you’d call bored.”
  • A Mother’s Expectations: Dé Kwaan always strived for good grades, largely because of his mother’s expectations. He repeatedly talks about his mother telling him to “get your grades.”
  • Miss O and Jonathan: Dé Kwaan’s AVID teacher, Miss O, and his AVID tutor, Jonathan Grant Brown, helped to change the trajectory of his life. He talks about the positive impact of their unconditional support and how that motivated him. He says, “They were so welcoming. I tried my best to get it right, for sure.”
  • A Safe Space: Dé Kwaan’s AVID classroom became his safe space. He says, “It made me want to stay in the class as much as I can, and even when I wasn’t in class, AVID became a home outside of home.” At one point, he was removed from his AVID class for disciplinary reasons. He recalls, “I came back to school. I was no longer in AVID, but I spent every day in the classroom whenever I could. I spent my lunches in there. I spent my [time] in between classes. I would ask my teachers, when I finished my work, ‘Can I go sit in my AVID class?’ It was like I never left, and they welcomed me.”
  • Being Given a Voice: Dé Kwaan says, “They [AVID teachers] gave me a place where I could sit, where somebody would listen to me, and they wouldn’t make me feel like I wouldn’t belong.”
  • You Are Not Your Behavior: Dé Kwaan recalls impactful words that he heard while at the local Alternative Learning Center. He says, “They told us all, ‘We don’t believe you’re bad kids. We believe you probably made a bad choice, and you ended up here. You’re okay.’ And that stuck with me. I never went back.”
  • Positive Expectations: “They always tried to make me feel like I could do something, or I belonged in AVID . . . and that I was capable of more than I thought that I was capable of.”
  • Higher Goals and Better Results: In high school, Dé Kwaan no longer was getting into trouble. He invested himself in sports and school, and people’s opinions of him changed. His own expectations also changed. He recalls, “I had a goal to become the first student tutor we had because everyone else was in college. I was like, well, I understand everything in class, so I want to be a student tutor.” His teacher told him, “Once you get high A’s in all your classes, you can be a tutor.” That motivated him. He recalls, “I got it together immediately. And subsequently, my GPA came up. So every year after that, my GPA just kept rising, and rising, and rising, and I moved up 276 places, and I was in the top 10 percent.”
  • College: Dé Kwaan graduated high school with honors and earned his school’s first ever Dell scholarship. That led him to Baylor University where he earned a degree in accounting. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science.
  • The Importance of Reading: Before college, Dé Kwaan struggled with reading and would avoid it when he could. This changed in college when Maya Angelou passed away, and he was able to buy her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, on sale. It took him some time, but he finished that book. That led him to read the Hunger Games trilogy, and then he says, “It was on from there. . . . The more I read, the more that I played the piano, the more my grades came up.”
  • Words Matter: “One thing I always tell teachers is the things that you say really stick with kids, even if you don’t think they’re listening, and the things that you don’t say never reach them,” says Dé Kwaan. He adds, “It’s my belief that as an educator, or as a teacher, you have the second best position in a kid’s life. . . . Do your best to build them up.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How did Dé Kwaan’s early life experiences impact his behavior and performance in school?
  • How can teachers help students who come to school impacted by trauma?
  • What positively impacted Dé Kwaan on his journey to graduating with honors and earning advanced degrees?
  • How can educators support students who may struggle behaviorally?
  • How can educators help students gain confidence and motivation for success?
  • What lessons do you take away from Dé Kwaan’s story?

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