Deonte Towner is Doing It for the Culture
Written by Antoinette Kelley on 13 June 2018
Most of us have been introduced to Watts, a city in Southern California, through our favorite gangsta’ rappers. Or perhaps, you’re familiar with the city of Watts from reports about the 1965 riots; For a week, black residents took to the streets to express their rage about the unchecked police brutality and the overall lack of resources in their community. Watts is a community were nearly 40% of the residents are living below the poverty line; this is more than double the national rate (~14%). A little more than 50% of the residents have earned a high school diploma; this is well below the national average (~88%). And, we know what this means. For students living in communities of high poverty and low opportunity, the easiest thing to do is drop out of school. This is usually followed by entanglements with the criminal justice system, and California has that very effective three-strikes sentencing law which they refuse to take back despite their overburdened prison system, but I digress. The point is, the school-to-prison pipeline is hella real and cycles of generational poverty that disproportionately affect minority students continues to persist. I know, the statistics feel bleak. However, there are so many bright spots in Watts, and Deonte Towner is one of them.
Originally born in Salinas, California, Deonte realized early that he was destined to use his divine gifts to make a difference in the lives of America’s forgotten students. Deonte may be young (26 years old) but he is certainly ready. He currently teaches at one of the most challenging schools in Watts which means many of the students he teaches are dealing with a number of barriers – drug abuse, neglect, neighborhood violence and all the associated trauma that goes along with it — that make it that much harder to succeed in an under-funded school system that simply does not have the resources to meet the unique needs of its students.
Deonte is standing in the gap, and his students get more than just a dedicated teacher; they get a mentor, an advocate, a fundraiser, a listener, and sometimes when they need it, a friend. When asked about how he manages to successfully reach his students, Deonte responds, “People don’t realize that being a teacher is not about your age. It’s not about how “cool” or how much you can “relate” to your students. All people want is someone to listen to them. That goes for anyone. From the rich to the poor. All people want is for someone to listen to them. I have a gift of hearing what a person’s heart is saying.”
Deonte is also a writer — his book Pieces in the Dark was released in April 2018 and can be purchased through Amazon, 40% of proceeds are used to purchase supplies for his students. He recognizes that the act of writing, expression through word, bolsters important skills for students. Plus, sometimes it can be therapeutic. Every other Friday, Deonte and other teachers at his school host a “Poetry Slam” where students have the opportunity to present their work before their peers. This is how Deonte amplifies the voice of the voiceless – his students share their experience in their own words. They feel brave and accomplished and more connected to their peers – they develop the socio-emotional tools they need to successfully transition into adulthood.
If you would like to support Mr. Towner’s students, donations can be made via Venmo @Deonte-Towner and Cash App @DeeT92. You can contact Deonte Tower at [email protected] and visit his website at www.deontetowner.com.