What kind of teachers did you have when you were in high school? If you were in one of Stuart Albright’s classes at Jordan High School, you would be inspired by his dedication to Durham Public Schools, and to his students in his classes and on the football field.
This was Stuart’s second visit to our club. Four years ago he spoke to us about his novel about growing up in Durham with a multi-cultural experience. He has taught creative writing for fourteen years, and considers himself to be a survivor of the rigors and demands of teaching in today’s high schools. In 2006 he was named the Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and has received the Milken National Educator Award.
Stuart’s presentation this time was about his recent book, A World Beyond Home. His goal was to examine why some students succeed and some do not. He focused on the story of two of his former students at Jordan High School, one a poet and one an athlete, who appeared to be on the road to failure, but who found a way to develop successful lives and be an inspiration to others.
The first student was George Yamazawa, whose family came to Durham from Japan. The father started a restaurant and George worked with his father in this venture. George was popular and displayed a talent for writing poetry. Yet, by the 10th grade, George became the biggest drug dealer at Jordan High School. When he had to spend a year in an alternative school, he realized that his “friends” were only there for the drugs.
He became aware of “Slam Poetry”, and asked Stuart to help him get back into Jordan HS, with the plan to establish a “Slam Poetry” Club at the school. With dedication and support from Stuart, he graduated, and then several years later he was a “spoken word” poet who is recognized worldwide. He now travels the world to make presentations about this version of poetry, and still keeps in touch with his mentor, Stuart.
The second student was Siddiq, who was one of those easy going, likeable kids in high school, and who loved being a part of the school’s football team. His father came from the Bronx where he encountered some trouble, and decided to move to Durham for a fresh start. At Jordan HS, Siddiq became a solid player on the football team but also became a gang member, and thus had two “families”. His story of his senior year homecoming experience was a very scary situation for him. After a clash between his gang and a rival gang, he joined with some of his fellow gang members who were seeking to kill one of the other gang members. As he reflected on this experience, he was thankful that they never found that rival gang member. That experience led him to realize how dangerous life in a gang could be. He then dropped out of his gang.
After Jordan, he went to college on a football scholarship, and became actively involved in community service, representing his college and his team. He received the “Good Hands” award for athletes involved in community service.
What does Stuart think is the lesson learned from the experiences of these two students? He argues that students need something they are passionate about — music, classes, after school activities, sports, poetry, etc.
Such involvement helps students look “outside” oneself in order to understand the many stories of others and how to relate to them.
Stuart reminded us that teaching is a tough job, and requires dedication and commitment. It also means that teachers often take the job home as they think about their students. That is what it means to care for the kids.
Submitted by Brady Surles
Editor’s note: Stuart was introduced by Past President Don Stanger. A World Beyond Home is available HERE on Amazon in print or Kindle versions. Search on YouTube for George or G Yamazawa to see why he has become a world famous “spoken word poet.” Here’s one example… Ten Things You Should Know about Being an Asian from the South.