Gary Damon’s passion for service to others, leadership on behalf of citizens and communities and steadfast commitment to positive change, has raised his profile as one of Western New York’s most progressive, emerging leaders. Gary began his professional career as an Educator in the Buffalo Public School system and relocated to Chester, Pennsylvania where he served as a RealWorld™ Learning Specialist and Learning Coach for an alternative school. As an acting supervisor and senior class advisor, he assisted in graduating 94% of the school’s senior population and successfully implemented a multi-faceted, project-based curriculum plan which implemented several academic content areas across six grade levels.
Earlier this year, Gary accepted a 15-month contract as Foreign Teacher/Supervisor in Beijing, China. In this position, he will be responsible teaching English to young learners ages 3-9, facilitate holistic learning by regularly communicating with parents, and supervising, coaching, managing, and leading ten (10) foreign teachers.
Charles Clark: Thank you for doing this interview!
Gary Damon: Thank you for asking!
CC: I’m going to jump right in, Who is Gary Damon, Jr.?
Gary Damon: Gary Damon, Jr. is a Christian, oldest of four siblings, and a man of many talents. He is an educator and executive leader. He focuses on the bottom-line and pays close attention to detail. Gary considers himself a strong positive leader with a focus on equipping, empowering, and educating those within his reach. Currently, Gary is diligently working to finish his doctoral students in Transformational Leadership. He hopes to have his Ed.d by the fall of 2018.
CC: Why China?
GD: To develop my leadership and educational skills, I thought it would be great to travel abroad and experience work in a different climate, culture, and country. This experience has benefited me in the areas of leadership design, innovative practice, and transformative learning. China has a lot of rich tradition and history in how they educate children. As we know children are the future and as parents, advocates, educators, and the like it is our due diligence to prepare them for what lies next in their lives educationally and beyond. China has allowed me to view education as a partnership between the school, child, and family. When you can connect the dots in an engaged and strategic manner you will them master how to educate the whole family, not just the child.
CC: Before you went to China you were Deputy Commissioner for Youth Services for Erie County in Western New York and a Youth Services Program Coordinator for a Community Action Organization in Erie County. Does your work experience in these positions help you working in China?
GD: All my professional experiences coupled with my educational practices has always allowed me to utilize my skills and competencies gained for each new endeavor. With that said, as Deputy Commissioner, Program Coordinator, Site Facilitator, Adjunct Professor, Real-world Learning Specialist, and Teacher each has given me what I need for where I am today professionally and educationally. With my studies as a doctoral candidate and previous experiences alluded above has helped me transform previously troubled programs into 21st-century hubs that provide rigor and relevance within its content and context in which educators teach and administrators lead and manage. As Chief Corporate Training Consultant and Lead First Grade Teacher, I can propel my professional career as an International Educator and Leader.
CC: What made you want to become an educator in the beginning?
GD: Education, mentorship, and being a role model has always been a push in my life. As an African American male growing up in the inner city I knew firsthand what it was like to struggle, live with one parent, and to succeed you must have letters after your name. To that extent, I made sure I pushed myself, set high, yet achievable standards, and surround myself with people that have similar interest and goals as myself.
CC: What’s the difference in education in China vs. the United States?
GD: One of the chief differences I notice in the education in China vs. The United States is their length of school day and year. The average school hours are 7:15 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Given I have worked in two school settings and work with educators and businesses I know firsthand they value education and its importance. At my current school, students spend a majority of their time in class learning the basic subjects (math, English, science, history), along with extracurricular classes (German, Piano, sports, theater, tutoring is built into everyone’s schedule).
CC: You have been recognized as an emerging & progressive young leader in Western New York. What qualities makes a leader?
GD: In my estimation, the qualities that make for a leader are: demonstrates impressive empathy, ability to think outside of the box, someone that is effective with changing the norms, expectations, and structure within their given organization, and someone willing to challenge the process (status quo), and have the keen ability to encourage the heart and enable others to act. Leadership is more than a title; it is something you consistently work toward.
CC: Can they be taught or does a person have them already?
GD: The above qualities are characteristics I have worked on and try to uphold and maintain as an executive leader. I would say they can be taught, however, leadership is not something you can take lightly. Leading people and organizations requires constant learning and significant improvements on behalf of the change agent. This office can be quite taxing and lonely; however, you can see the fruits when you are building and sustaining a high performing team.
CC: With all your work with youth, how important is mentorship?
GD: Mentoring is necessary and key to teaching youth the importance of education, goals, aspirations, social and emotional skills, and life in general. The work of mentoring is so important to me that my dissertation topic focuses on mentoring, specifically African American males between the ages of 8-18 living in urban metropolitan areas.
CC: What are the misconceptions of youth especially young black males?
GD: Hmm, that is a loaded question that I do not think I can answer in a few short sentences. Contrary to what social media shares, what TV illustrates, and what people may say young black males are inspiring, intelligent, and impressive men that have the same potential and productivity as any other race and nationality in the world. I know it to be true!
CC: There is a lot of talk about legacy, especially as we are on the verge of a major transition with President Obama about to leave office. What do you want your legacy to be?
GD: A working definition of legacy is what would you like others to remember you by. And to that extent, I would like my legacy and what others to remember me is that my words and work matched I was a living example and role model for others to look up to and see a leader, educator, and friend.
CC: What’s next for Gary Damon, Jr.?
GD: My goal is to obtain my doctorate in transformational leadership by the fall of 2018. With that I will focus my time and energy building a consultant company with a focus on transforming troubled organizations, life coaching, mentoring, and grant writing to name a few.