By Kojo Asamoa-Caeser
Today was a really rough day. I was this 👌🏿 close to losing my religion. But I stayed like Jesus. And then at the end of the day the Lord sent me a sign…in the form of Kehlan.
Kehlan was one of 16 energetic boys in my kindergarten class during my first year of teaching. He is now in 5th grade. Wowzers. He randomly decided to stop by the school on his way home today to say hi. He says he remembered that his mom had told him I worked here.
I have probably dedicated more man-hours, effort and energy to Kehlan than to any other individual student. Kehlan was the kid that all the other kids looked up to and wanted to be like, but he did all the things the teacher didn’t like for anybody to do. A black boy full of energy, wit and charisma. A kindergartener who played linebacker on a team of 2nd and 3rd graders.
He once balled up his fists when he was upset and a white Pre-K teacher screamed and ran away in fear. That moment cemented for me the need for black male presence in early education, for folks who didn’t view as a threat, five-year old black boys who ball up their fists when they’re angry.
I saw so much potential in Kehlan, and he made sure I worked hard to earn his trust and respect. He didn’t care how much I knew, he wanted to know how much I cared. I went to football games. I did home visits. I had conferences with mom and dad. I had countless heart to hearts with Kehlan. We would take two steps forward and then five steps back. Kehlan had just about every job in my classroom – line leader, door holder, table cleaner, floor sweeper, snack basket returner, etc. – because I had to wear him out or else he’d wear me and everybody else out.
Kehlan was one of the strongest students in the class in math but struggled a bit with reading. By the end of the year he was above grade level in both. I remember vividly a meeting at the end of the year with Kehlan, Mom and I. We sat around the table and reflected on the highs and lows of the year. We were ending on a low note because Kehlan had gotten into a fight late in the year. We talked about all the things we had done to try to support him and asked him why none of that seemed to be sinking in. Mom began to wipe tears from her eyes as Kehlan and I traded watery-eyed glances.
I felt defeated. I thought I had failed him. I wasn’t quite sure what the future held for him, and I was scared.
I was feeling some of those same emotions today. But then seemingly out of nowhere, Kehlan shows up. Looking sharp in his bow tie, speaking confidently about how much progress he’s made, about how he’s dominating on the football field and in the classroom. About how “I don’t get in trouble like I used to anymore.” And when I asked him if his dream was still to go to the NFL, he said “yeah, but I also want to be an engineer.” The smile on my face was as wide as the equator.
Kehlan is my why. He is the reason I came to Oklahoma to teach kindergarten. He is my legacy. If I don’t touch anybody else, he would’ve been worth it all. He gives me hope that all hope is not lost. That even when we think we’ve failed, we may have planted seeds of success that we’re yet able to see.
Thank you God for the intentional signs. I am grateful for the privilege and opportunity to touch young lives and impact them for the future. Thank you Kehlan for showing up today just when I most needed to see you. Thank you TIffany Harris-Corbbrey and Michael Corbbrey for raising such an outstanding young man. Can’t wait to see the man he will become.
Kojo Asamoa-Caesar is the founding principal at Greenwood Leadership Academy, a Partnership School in Tulsa and part of the Met Cares Foundation.
Before joining MetCares, he served as the Director of Student Engagement at Tulsa Legacy Charter School where he was responsible for establishing and maintaining a school culture that was conducive to student learning across two school buildings. Mr. Asamoa-Caesar began his career in education as a member of Teacher for America through which he served as a kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher at Tulsa Lighthouse Charter School (the predecessor to Tulsa Legacy Charter School). As an early childhood teacher, Mr. Asamoa-Caesar’s students saw significant growth in their reading scores. He was ultimately named Teacher of the Year at Tulsa Lighthouse Charter School for the 2014-2015 school year. In between his time at Tulsa Legacy, Kojo Asamoa-Caesar served as Director of Outreach and Operations for the Office of Colorado Senator Mike Johnston and was instrumental in marshaling 13 bills through the legislative process, ten of which were signed into law. Mr. Asamoa-Caesar’s passion is to build communities where everyone can achieve their highest potential. He believes education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world, and he wakes up and works hard every day to do just that.