I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed. – Booker T. Washington
In this new series, I will interview and profile women and men in our local community who have exhibited a notable level of success or leadership. It is my hope that their stories will inspire the reader to set big dreams and reach diligently to achieve them.
Mr. Carmen Garner, Visual Arts Teacher
I believe that most teachers in our schools are heroic figures, but during a recent PTA meeting at my son’s school, I learned about the poignant story of the school’s new Visual Arts teacher, Mr. Carmen Garner. Read on to hear about his traumatic early life and how he uses his experience to help today’s youth.
Mr. Garner was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He grew up without a strong family support system, having lost his mother to HIV at an early age. His father was never really involved in the family’s life. Carmen was on his own at the age of eleven.
In a rocky journey through a series of uncaring foster homes, Mr. Garner was exposed to every negative influence imaginable. To cope, Carmen stayed quiet, kept his head down and relied on the generosity of friends and their parents for support. Eventually his high school principal, Ms. Jackson, noticed something special in the introverted student and introduced him to a mentor, Dr. Khamal Ali, who served as a Professor of Ethnic Studies at Westfield State University.
Under Dr. Ali’s guidance, Mr. Garner “willed his way” through high school, and then through Westfield State University, where he began to express his love for the arts. He graduated with a B.S. of Fine Arts and Graphic Design and soon made his way to D.C. where he began making an impact on the lives of children as a science teacher at Johnson Junior High School.
When asked to select a career highlight, Mr. Garner chose 2015, when he received the Model Excellence Award from the Unique Learning Center, a non-profit learning center for at-risk children and youth in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest. As an artist, he recites motivational quotes daily; one of his favorites is statement by Robert F. Kennedy:
Those who dare to fail miserably, can achieve greatly.
Today, Mr. Garner is a respected DC Public Schools teacher, education activist, speaker and awarded author of the book, From That to This, in which he chronicles his life story in prose and original artwork. He is married with two children and is deeply involved in his local church.
He says that the key to connecting with today’s youth and impacting their lives is to be transparent; “Tell them everything…. experience gives the lesson.” As a youth, he always believed that his life would be a success if he could help just one child avoid the trying life that he experienced. Thankfully he is now in the position to inspire thousands.