By his own description, Abdul Wright made some bad choices while growing up on the South Side of Chicago. That’s one of the reasons his single mom moved her seven children to Minneapolis when he was almost 14: She wanted a better life for her family.
After living briefly with a relative, Wright’s family became homeless and moved to a shelter for a time. Eventually, he “barely graduated’’ from Edison High School but didn’t have the grades or resources for a four-year school. So he attended community college before transferring to Concordia University in St. Paul, where he earned a degree in education.
On Saturday, he received a master’s degree in education from Hamline University. And last week, the 29-year-old was named Minnesota’s 2016 Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota.
An eighth-grade English teacher at Best Academy in north Minneapolis (part of the Harvest Network), Wright is both the first African-American male and the first charter school teacher to receive the honor. And he is believed to be the youngest winner in the award’s 52-year history. Wright’s personal story alone can inspire all students — but especially young black males who too often struggle in school.
“We want young black men to have grace, belief in themselves and be loved and supported … actually that’s not tied to a skin color or gender — this is what everyone needs,’’ he told an editorial writer. “With those things you can be a good person, a compassionate person and understand that you’re important when you make a difference in the lives of others.’’
Colleagues and judges who selected Wright for the award describe his teaching as transformational — engaging, energetic and inspiring.
Wright says he was drawn to a career in education because so many teachers and others helped him. A former principal provided transportation for him to get to college, and another mentor bought him his first dress shirt for an interview. “I wanted to be deserving and pay it forward.”
Wright certainly is deserving, and hopefully his story will motivate more students, educators and communities to reach new heights.