Darrion Cockrell, a former gang member who turned his life around, has been named the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year. The physical education teacher - known affectionately as 'Mr DC' to his pupils at Crestwood Elementary, St. Louis - shared details about his troubled childhood in his acceptance speech for the award, which you can watch a clip from below:
Cockrell's mother was a drug addict and his father was murdered when he was four. He grew up in the foster care system.
He said in his inspiring speech: "During these tumultuous times, I truly felt like I was born just to fail."
Growing up surrounded by drugs and violence, Cockrell joined a gang at the age of 10.
He continued: "Six-deuce-87 Kitchen Crip gangster - yeah. Your 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year used to be in a gang.
"I started from the bottom and now I'm here, but back then that was normal to me.
"That was ordinary life and sadly this is the same reality for many of those kids living in that same neighbourhood where I grew up."
Nine years later, Cockrell was adopted by a football coach and his wife and was finally given the opportunities which allowed him to become the man he is today.
Cockrell's message in his speech was for teachers to understand 'the power that we have to make positive or negative impacts in the lives of others'.
Cockrell said he hated school growing up, but when he transferred to a news school things started to look up for him.
He said: "My new teachers truly cared. They pushed me and my family. They supported us immensely.
"Those experiences and connections changed my perspective on both people and school."
Cockrell's work on after-school fitness training programme 'Crest-Fit' and his virtual exercise sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic were credited with earning him the award.
Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said of the win: "Missouri is fortunate to have so many high-quality educators, and Darrion will be a wonderful representative as our state's Teacher of the Year.
"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."
Featured Image Credit: Missouri Department of Education