Meet Kendrick Deon Thomas, assistant principal at Hicks Elementary School in the Alief Independent School District. The native of Shreveport, La., is on a mission to motivate and empower boys and young men of color to succeed despite obstacles they face in their daily lives. Thomas, 41, explained his journey with the International Management District.
Q: What prompted your decision to go into education?
A: In Shreveport, before my mom returned from prison, I used to go to the Volunteers of America Lighthouse after school each day. There were so many (other) places to do the wrong thing. The Lighthouse shielded me from all of this as a place to do the right thing. The highlighted education helped with homework and taught us life lessons.
As a result of this, at the age of 9, I told my grandmother I would be an English teacher. I thank God she was able to see this (happen) before she passed.
Q: What is your philosophy on education?
A: My philosophy of education is that all kids can and will learn. This happens through building relationships that consider students’ backgrounds, experiences and cultures. Meet students where they are and build from there.
Q: How do you connect with young people who have challenging social backgrounds?
A: The connection is easy to make because I was the kid who needed a connection. My mother gave birth to me at 15; I haven’t met my father, and my mother went to jail for five years for armed robbery.
These are just a few events that I share with students who are dealing with these types of home lives. This is the reason behind the G.R.E.A.T. Boys Club that I created. G.R.E.A.T. stands for Gentleman Representing Education and Transition.
This platform is a safe place for students to share their feelings. Since 2014 I’ve been working with 20 to 30 boys from homes like these. I teach them life lessons, and because I know how it feels to be in their shoes, I teach the importance of intrinsic motivation.
Q: What is your advice for a single parent?
A: A few months ago, I did a podcast about the (parenting) of minority daughters. This happens due to the loss of connection to the community “village” in most cases. So if I could talk to single parents, my main idea would be to make sure to stay connected to the “village.”
Do as much as possible to stay connected to the community’s resources and get connected to the school. The parent center gives classes, resources, and more for parents who take advantage of their resources.
Q: What are some of the hardships that you have had to endure?
A: I understand that I missed growing up with knowledge and background experiences that would have given me a jump start in life – no father to mentor me or consistently guide me on how I should go. I did have my grandfather, and he poured so much, but the feeling of saying, ‘I love you, Dad’ is something I will never be able to say.
When I moved down here in 2003 for college, I lived in the house with nine people, sometimes sleeping on the floor, occasionally getting a hotel room, doing what I had to do to make it happen. I remember going to five different Houston Community College locations in one semester to make sure I kept the graduation goal I promised myself.
When I think of hardships, I also think about why I started the podcast in the first place. Unfortunately, on May 31, 2019, I lost my brother to suicide. I lost my best friend to sudden death from battling multiple sclerosis seven days before that. Her family could not contact me until June 3; by then, they’d had her funeral, and she was buried. Her funeral was the same day as my brother’s suicide.
I didn’t know about it that day, and I always wonder if God was shielding me from the tremendous pain that day would have brought. Due to these tragedies, I grieved the entire month of June, and on my birthday, July 1, 2019, I vowed I would get this pain out for others to hear through this podcast.
Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career thus far?
A: One of my most significant accomplishments would be the road in Alief to get my assistant principal position. I began working in Alief in 2013 as a special education behavioral teacher. You had to qualify to have an emotional disturbance to be placed in my class. However, through my hard work and dedication, I successfully brought in and helped students from other schools around the district.
I changed the trajectory of their lives by teaching them social skills that they could use forever in any circumstance. This led to me being asked to apply for the district behavioral specialist job, helping teachers around the district set up classrooms to run successfully like mine.
I knew this would mean leaving my Hicks family and campus for another role. However, I also knew I could affect change on a larger platform, so that it would be worth the move. I worked at the district level for one week, and a position for the assistant principal came open at Hicks Elementary.
So I interviewed, and I got the job, and I was back on my home campus now as a campus leader instead of a teacher. This journey was remarkable to me as I believe it was indeed a product of my hard work that allowed God to open these doors quickly in the same summer.