Donovan Taylor Hill, a middle school teacher at Impact Academy in Oakland, CA, teaches his students more than just math and science. He shows them the importance of self-love and positivity, helping them build their self-esteem. After having a rough childhood and feeling lost in life, Donovan had to become his own strength.
Like many of us in today’s world, he felt very unheard and unseen throughout his early life. Donovan grew up in Virginia in an all-white neighborhood. Being a gay black male, he felt very isolated and struggled with his identity. He said his neighbors often followed him around and told him things like, “You don’t belong here.”
As a result, he felt he had to hide his identity like he couldn’t show the world his true self.
Throughout high school and college, he battled severe depression and later had thoughts of suicide. Many of his issues stemmed from the fact that he had no one to confide in about his sexuality. While Donovan was close with his dad, he passed away from leukemia when he was a kid.
Donovan’s identity crisis only deepened after losing his dad, as that meant he’d lost the connection to the black side of his family. He felt so lost, but he didn’t want to burden anyone, especially his mom, with how he felt. Donovan didn’t know how to ask for help or stand up for himself, so he bottled up his painful emotions. Though he felt deeply depressed, he tried to cope with his feelings and learn to build a positive self-image.
After learning how to love himself, he eventually found his calling in life: a middle school teacher. He said that was “a saving grace” for him because it allowed him to make a difference in children’s lives. Many young adults battle depression, suicidal thoughts, and identity issues. However, when they know someone cares about them and truly wants them to succeed in life, it can make all the difference.
We want to share Donovan’s powerful story with you on how he went from being suicidal and depressed to becoming a beacon of hope for many young adults.
Middle school teacher shows students the power of love
“As a middle school teacher, I’m often asked by people why I always tell my kids that I love them every single day. Well, the answer goes all the way back to when I was 6 years old,” Donovan says.
One day while riding the bus home from kindergarten, Donovan felt so excited to show his dad an invitation he’d made for him. His school had planned a Father’s Day event where they’d be doing activities outdoors. So, when he got home from school, he immediately ran to his dad and showed him the invitation.
His dad didn’t share his excitement, unfortunately. When Donovan asked if he could make it, his father said that he wouldn’t have time to attend as the commander of a hospital. Donovan felt sad and disappointed, but he didn’t want his dad to know that. So, he just said ‘okay’ and walked away.
“About two weeks later, we had the event, and the staff had grossly underestimated how many kids weren’t able to bring a dad to the event,” Donovan recalled. “So, they had to create a hangout zone, where the kids who didn’t have their dads would sit and eat ice cream until an adult was available to play with them in one of the activities.
“I remember sitting next to this kid who was eating his ice cream bar, and it was smeared all over his face. I was so disgusted by him when his jaw dropped, and I noticed that the whole field had gotten quiet. And I looked over and saw that this 18-passenger van had pulled up. The door slid open, and all these soldiers in full attire came rushing out. The last one to come was my dad, with his big aviators that I loved so much.”
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At that moment, Donovan knew his Dad had just been playing with him. When Donovan looked confused, his dad said: ‘Why wouldn’t I come? You made that great invitation for me.’
How this powerful moment influenced the middle school teacher’s life
“He pulled his aviators down, and he looked at me and said: ‘You’re my son, I love you.’
Now, he had planned this; the school knew that they were coming. But, what’s really cool about this is all the soldiers that he brought were soldiers who were stationed far away from home. They were away from their kids, so he gave them the day off to play at the field day event. And every single kid had an adult to play with in their activities,” Donovan said.
What Donovan didn’t know at that moment is that his dad already knew he had leukemia. So, he promised himself that he would spend as much time with his son as possible before he passed away. He wanted Donovan to remember how much he loved and cared about him. Within a year of the Father’s Day event, his dad passed away.
“So, when I’m in my classroom, when I’m with my students, I always tell them that I love them. I want them to remember that feeling, and I never know who needs to hear it and who needs to be told that,” the middle school teacher says.
“More than anything, I want my kids to remember what it feels like to be loved, what it feels like to be cared for because that is the greatest lesson of all.”
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Final thoughts on the middle school teacher who teaches students love and positive self-image
Donovan says that many young people, especially millennials, can relate to his story. Many people from this generation came from difficult backgrounds and had to learn how to love themselves. After coming out of a very dark time in his life, Donovan now helps young adults find their light, too. The pain we go through isn’t worthless; it can remind others that they’re not alone in their struggles and that they, too, can rise from the ashes.