Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.
Brian Dinkins grew up poor on the east side of Indianapolis, but he was good at football. That helped him get to college, where he played defensive end at Purdue University on the same team as NFL great Drew Brees. After college, he discovered a love for teaching. He is the new principal at Providence Cristo Rey High School, a unique Catholic school on the west side built around student work-study experiences. We talked with him at the school’s Draft Day event to start the school year.
I was like many young people. I was unmotivated in school. Football was my way out.
After I had my experiences in the sports arena and came back to my old high school, Arlington High School, I really began to see I had been mentored in the wrong things.
Of course athletics is a great thing to invest in, too, and it provided opportunities for me to go to school for free at Purdue. I had great opportunities there to grow, I played in the Rose Bowl and we won championships. Those experiences were a blessing to me, but mostly because today I can use them as a testimony to help students look at their own experiences and opportunities.
I subbed for two years and coached at Arlington. I saw an opportunity to have more impact by going back and investing in my education so I could go into the classroom and teach. I did that, and I had an opportunity to be mentored to go into administration.
I became a principal at Imagine East charter school in my old neighborhood. For a lot of the kids who were in my school, I had gone to school with their parents. It was an epiphany for me to realize the families are still in the neighborhood. Somewhere along the path they hadn’t connected to something that would change their experiences, or their children’s experiences.
So there’s something that I can share, in a raw sense, with many kids. I can speak as directly to them as possible. I know exactly the experiences they are dealing with. I came out of poverty. I lived homeless. That really provides a platform that kids can connect to and say, “If he did it, I can do it.” I think that’s a gift from God and from the teachers who invested in my life.
I used to be upset about my life and my childhood. But I am so grateful now because it’s my gift to the kids and I hope to do it for a long time.