When we think of gang members, we tend to see them as criminals instead of victims.
In reality, they are often the most vulnerable members of society who need an olive branch of opportunity to help them escape a life of poverty or disadvantage.
And Darrion Cockrell is living proof that with the right help can come the right fortune, as the former gang member has just been coined ‘Teacher of the Year’ in his native Missouri, USA.
Crediting his adoptive parents and two of his PE teachers, Darrion said he would not be where he is today without the remarkable people who helped him along the way.
In a moving speech shared by Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary, where Darrion works as a physical education teacher, he spoke out on his tough upbringing and how hearing gun shots and seeing dead bodies on the sidewalk was the norm for him as a child.
Mr Cockrell said while accepting his award: “I was going down the wrong path, destined to end up just like my friends – dead or in jail.”
He continued: “I was born to a drug-addicted mother who had two of her six kids by the age of 16. My father was murdered by the time I was four, and I began my journey in and out of the foster care system not long after my sixth birthday.”
During the talk, Darrion also thanked a man named Ken, who he said mentored him while he was living in a boys’ home during middle school.
Mr Cockrell added: “He taught me it’s okay to be tough, but at the same time it’s okay to be compassionate. He was like a father figure to me.”
His heart-warming speech also shone a light on his belief that teachers hold the power to make positive or negative impacts in the lives of others.
Speaking about Darrion’s triumph, the state’s commissioner of education, Margie Vandeven, said she was delighted that he would be representing Missouri with the great accolade.
Ms Vandeven said: “He guides his students towards long-term physical and mental wellness, and the connections he has established will impact Crestwood children for years to come.”
What an inspiration!