Dear Mr. Amaral,
Let me start by saying thank you for your service and dedication as a teacher. Being a teacher can be one the most difficult professions in our society. While I must admit the great difficulty that comes along the task of teaching, I must also say that it is one of the most rewarding professions in our society as well. Your recent letter to Steph Curry about the many reasons that he should not visit your high school to speak to your students was very intriguing. The arguments that made about those “poor little” impoverish kids not being able to relate to the privileged life style of Steph and not wanting to get their “little” hopes and dreams up because it was too late for many to pursue pro sports, especially the short guys. Good arguments and very compelling to many readers to justify not having Steph visit your school. However, I would like to offer you another perspective. Another perspective that may have been missing from your letter about your “poor” little students who need to have “more realistic” goals. A perspective of a young man who grew up living in extreme urban poverty. I thank you in advance for considering my perspective. So here is what my letter to Steph Curry and how the visit may benefit many of those little “poor” kids in your school. Here’s my letter to Steph from the “poor” student’s perspective.
I must admit that I’m a huge fan of yours now that I live in the city that you grew up in- Charlotte, NC. I grew up watching your dad become one the key players during the Hornets genesis as an NBA franchise. I wish I could say that your dad was my all time favorite player but I would not be telling the truth. My all time favorite player happens to be the owner of the team that your dad played for; none other than the GREAT Michael Jordan. Nevertheless, there is always room for others like yourself to join him on my all time favorite team once you get a couple of championships under your belt.
I have to ask you to do me a huge favor and make sure that you go visit schools like the ones that I attended as a kid- although there were too many to name individually. You see I attended 5 different elementary schools within 6 years due to living in many foster homes, crisis centers, motel rooms, and with different family members. By the way, when you go visit these poor schools, bring Michael and Dell with you.
The NBA does a lot in communities around the world and going into poor schools like the ones that I attended would mean the world to those students.
You see, Steph, my parents were drug addicts and professional shoplifters who spent a lot of time in prison when I was growing up. In fact, my mother was arrested 11 times during the 1st year that I was born. Had you come to my school when I was younger I would have enjoyed you being your usual inspiring, humble, hilarious, kind self and I know that you would have said all of the right things. I would have hung on to every word- even the words that would have not said.
You see I could have cared less that you had a professional one-on-one tutor that helped you hone your skills on a daily basis. Me and my poor friends would have been excited to hear that your dad, Dell Curry, was a NBA great that worked hard on the court so that you could have a better life.
And had you visited my school, I would not have been envious of the fact that you grew up living a good life, eating three square meals a day with a full sized court and hoop in the back yard; a sense of safety; a mother and a father; top schools, rich peers, and community resources.
I grew up living a very tough life. We did not get three meals a day as my parents would leave me and my elementary siblings for days by ourselves while they binged on heroin. My siblings and I had to depend on the schools for many of our meals and stealing what we could to bring back home to my oldest sister (6th grader) who had to stay home with my one-year-old sister. On the weekends, we would case out different convenient stores in the community to walk into and sprint out with what we could grab so we would not starve to death. Gunshots and police sirens racing throughout my neighborhood provided daily entertainment, numbing us to the dangers. Broken homes were the story of the day for many kids in my school. There was a piece of me, however, that even admired the kids growing up in the stable, roach infested projects with a single parent. Growing up bouncing from foster home to foster home without parents was very difficult. Many of my peers were also poor and we attended dilapidated schools. Our community had very few resources and much hopelessness. Hearing your story would have given me something to look forward to- HOPE, despite the fact that my current conditions were telling me something different.
Even, seeing how tall you were would not have deterred me from wanting to be like you or other professional athletes in the NBA or NFL. You see, success in my neighborhood had very much to do with things that I saw on a daily basis. The drug-dealer on the corner with all the money was at one end of the success spectrum. The other end of the spectrum was based on players who looked like me who were playing professional sports, like you. My goal was to make it to the NBA or NFL. A back up plan meant doing the negative stuff that I saw in my neighbor. There was no plan B. It was all or nothing. You see in my neighborhood there were no black men walking around in suits leaving their homes to go to law firms or hospitals each day. The black men in my neighborhood were dying daily, mentally and physically. So I did not have a backup plan for my dream of playing professional sports. Having an alternative plan is much easier said, by outsiders, than done for kids coming from where I came from. Seeing you at my school would have made me work even harder toward my plan A of playing professional sports.
Hearing that you achieved your dream of playing professional sports would have silenced the voices around me telling me it was too late to go the NFL since I did not begin playing football until the 9th grade. In fact, it was former Denver Bronco player, Marc Jackson, coming to my local recreation center that reinforced that I could play football and go to the NFL.
Hearing your story and that of other professional athletes made me want to pick up a ball and stay out of trouble immediately after school. Knowing this, my teachers and coaches in high school built in mandatory study times after school to help me balance my obsession for sports. My teachers and coaches knew that I was not going to run home to finish an essay or science project. Some on the outside of my community would say that it is a sin to worship athletes and celebrities, however, when they come live in my community and see that vicariously living through these stars and athletes gives us just one more day of hope they would see why we do it. The hope that maybe, just maybe, that it will be me next and I can turn back and inspire another kid facing the tough circumstances. You see, dreaming in a neighborhood like mine gives you more reason to get off of the life support machine of public assistance and strive for financial freedom to take care of your family.
Steph, having a person like you come to a school like mine tells me that, “I can too.” Couple that with teachers in these schools that will embrace whatever far fetched dream students have and you would be amazed at what a student might achieve.
Now I have to be honest with you, Steph, simply seeing Marc Jackson and other athletes like yourself in my neighborhood or school did not get me to the pros. But what it did do in the midst of high school when I was homeless and my mother was in prison, my father was in prison, my little brother was in prison, my oldest brother was gang banging on the streets, my oldest sister was a crack-addict on the streets, my second oldest sister was in foster care in another state, my youngest sister was living with my aunt, and my grandmother (my last legal guardian was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease) gave me a dream to stay in the game of life. My dream of going on to play professional sports introduced me to mentors, great friends from all types of backgrounds, and the ability to travel beyond my neighborhood.
Again Steph, the adults in my life, in particular my teachers and coaches, spent very little time telling me what I couldn’t achieve, when I was in high school, and spent more time celebrating the fact that I had a dream. Our collective energies were put into what you do everyday before you step on to the basketball court- which was laying out a plan and goals to win. You see, sometimes winning to the kids growing up in impoverished neighborhoods and schools has less to do with wanting to be athletes and celebrities themselves and more to do with riding the wave of someone else’s success until their confidence to believe in themselves and their own dream kicks in. It’s funny what happens to kids and students in this situation. As I mentioned before, I did not make it to the pros due to a career ending injury in college. But what took place following my injury was a true blessing. A plan B or backup plan emerged and revealed itself to me. It wasn’t because everyone else told me this but because of how the universe works. Certain doors open up us in time. The confidence that I gained in pursuit of my dream to play in the pros kicked in and gave me the confidence, instead, to get a college degree. I then pursued and received a graduate degree, a post graduate and eventually a doctorate degree. Later I became a school principal. Today, I am a successful entrepreneur traveling the nation inspiring millions. I get a chance to motivate and inform educators, students, corporations and many others with my messages of hope and resilience. I forgot to mention that I’m also the author of 3 books.
So yes, Steph, get out and go to schools like the ones that I grew up attending and tell every student rich or poor that they can become anything they want to become, even a pro athlete. Let that message marinate with the students. Continue to encourage the students and life will show them the rest. I didn’t make it to the pros but being Dr. Tommy A. Watson certainly hasn’t been a disappointing alternative.
Former NFL Dreamer- Dr. Tommy A. Watson
I hope that you now have a perspective and insights as to how a visit from Steph Curry could and would benefit those many little “poor” kids that you have the privilege of teaching each day. Best of luck this school year! I guess now would be a great time to say, “Go Golden State”, however, I have a tough time betting against King James- so how about a, “Go Steph Curry”.
Student Goes from homeless and living out of a trunk to DR!