Darrion Cockrell was born to a drug-addicted mother, who "had two kids by the age of 16." His father was also murdered when he was only 4 years old. Less than two years later, he would lose his mother, and would enter into the foster care system right around the time of his 6th birthday. Darrion loathed school growing up as a kid and by the age of 10, he had joined a local gang.
"That was normal life for me. I was going down the wrong path, destined to end up just like my friends — dead or in jail," Darrion said. But there were key figures in his life - educators, who he credits as creating that impetus for a positive change. Two physical education teachers fostered an environment for Darrion that allowed him to enjoy at least a portion of his childhood - something that previously seemed impossible.
One individual in particular, a man by the name of Ken who worked at the boys' home situated near the middle school Darrion was attending, had a significant impact on the young man's life.
"He taught me it's OK to be tough, but at the same time it's OK to be compassionate. He was like a father figure to me. Looking back, if it were not for this place, I would not be where I am today."
And where Darrion is today, is pretty remarkable, especially when one considers the degree of personal difficulty he had to overcome.
Darrion was recently named Missouri state's Teacher of the Year for his work at Crestwood Elementary, located in the Lindbergh School district in the suburbs of St. Louis. "Mr. DC" as his students call him, delivered his acceptance speech and published it on YouTube. Titled, "This is my Story," Darrion named a bunch of teachers and adults in his personal journey who helped him to overcome the odds.
In the video, he shares that his football coach ended up adopting him, something that changed : "No, I'm not Micahel Oher from The Blindside, but I did have dreams of the NFL. When I changed the way I looked at things, the things around me started to change." He credits the adoption as being one of the biggest turning points in his life.
In an interview with local news station KMOV, "I had a lot of challenges and a lot of hurdles, and if it were not for those educators who helped me along the way, I wouldn't be where I am today."
One of the biggest reasons Darrion was named Missouri's Teacher of the Year isn't just how he conveys the subject matter to his children, it's how much that subject matter means to him.
By working to build those relationships with his students, he's become a positive force of change in their lives, just like the personal mentors that had helped shape his future for the better.
Folks all over social media are applauding the teacher's actions, and some are even using him as a #COVIDCallout, which is a trending hashtag dedicated to sharing positive news during the pandemic. Because 2020's been stressful enough for so many.