MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week’s Excellent Educator has been credited with not only impacting lives, but saving lives.
Donnell Gibson, or “Mr. D,” works at Como Park Senior High in St. Paul. All that led up to him becoming an educator could be the makings of a movie — from a childhood of homelessness to his heroic actions in a fire. How he uses those experiences to motivate young men makes Gibson an Excellent Educator.
As a behavior intervention specialist, Gibson says his job is to help students with life, so they can focus on school.
“They are trying to figure it out just like some adults, and I give them a better picture to not give up that people don’t understand that you are trying to figure it out right now, because it’s a step before being an adult,” he said.
He reaches boys through basketball as head coach for the school’s junior varsity team.
“Everything in life relates to basketball, so even if you’re not a basketball player you know something about the game and you can bring that concept into their personal life and they can relate to it,” he said.
He had dreams to start a rec center for the teens, but those plans changed one April day in 2015. He ran into a burning house three times to save a family of 10. St. Paul Fire Chief and the city’s mayor presented him with the Fire Department’s highest honor for his life-saving heroics.
“It was probably one of the most dramatic things in my life,” Gibson said. “The family I saved was from a different culture, so when you have to understand the cultural bearers it makes you think differently, and it makes you think deeper. And the deeper I thought, it opened up my eyes.”
The experience forced Gibson to think about his goals.
“I had to take away the tunnel vision and see that there is a bigger horizon out there; I can’t just look at sports. It’s life, it’s survival, it’s relationships,” Gibson said.
So, instead of a rec center, he started the Gibson Foundation, a program that mentors young, African-American, inner city men through motivational speakers, college tours and, of course, basketball.
“I’m everything they are,” he said. “I come from humble beginnings, being lost, trying to figure it out.”
Growing up in St. Paul, Gibson experienced bouts of homelessness, but he found inspiration from an educator in his life, his high school principal.
“She didn’t see anything in me but greatness, and even now I see that she gave me the opportunity to see it in myself,” he said.
Now he’s helping youth see their own greatness.
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