Diamond Don is telling stories that matter

Diamond Don is telling stories that matter

April 08, 2024 | by Contributor


This is my CTE story.

When I started high school, I was a solid academic student; however, I lost my way. I began to struggle academically because I was too busy chasing girls, success in sports or popularity. Over time this approach left me feeling disconnected. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I became a loner. And by junior year, my GPA dropped to 1.9.

Suddenly, I was going nowhere fast. Then I learned about a radio station course offered through my high school’s CTE program. I had always been interested in radio, so I signed up.

Creating a lifetime of learning

Nothing was more exciting than going to my fifth hour CTE course every day and playing around on the radio station. Creating elements for different radio programs. Creating assets and drops and stingers. As I entered my senior year of high school, a good friend and I got our first radio show! On Monday nights, 8:00–10:00 p.m., we played house music and mixes. We took live calls and gave shoutouts, and it was fantastic!

Our radio show broadcast for a six- to 10-mile radius around the school. That low-powered FM station had an outstanding reach when I think about it. It was the most exciting time of my life.

My CTE story: The radio station gave me a reason to go to school.

While I was in high school, the Specs Howard School of Media Arts came to give a presentation. (The school is now part of Lawrence Technological University.) At the time I was struggling and unsure about what my next step was going to be. But their talk stood out in my mind. And I knew that, somewhere in my journey, I would go to this school. I knew I wanted to continue training in this field that I had grown to love so much in a short time.

Thanks to the encouragement and dedication of a fantastic teacher, with whom I’m still friends, I graduated from high school with a 2.2 overall GPA. I made it out, barely.

Learning what not to do

I needed postsecondary counseling and real career direction that I never received. I only went to college because someone had seen me play football and thought I could benefit their team. Turns out, I didn’t make it past football camp. And I was committed to a school I never wanted to attend. I skipped a ton of classes. I did absolutely no classwork. There was a lot of partying and drinking, and in certain moments, my outlook was dark and depressing.

By November, I was back home with my parents. I remember my mother said, “You can live here, but you better be working.” So, I worked jobs in retail; for the city’s forestry department, trimming trees and chipping bushes and branches; and as a janitor. After a while, I realized what I needed to do. I needed to go to Specs Howard.

I had no idea what I would find as I continued my education in radio. What I found was my village. I found people doing something that they loved.

Once, I submitted an audio production to a statewide broadcast contest sponsored by a local conference. I spent all day working on that submission, making the smallest changes. My instructor sent me back and forth to the lab. And when I got frustrated, he would look at me and say, well, if you want to win, this is what you got to do. He was right. Plus, I truly loved what I was doing. I submitted the work, and I took second place.

I went from skipping high school and college classes to never missing a day. In fact, I was only late three times. My previous C+ average became an A by the time I graduated from Specs Howard. Even on my off days, you could find me in the audio lab area, experimenting with editing and mixing sound. At graduation, I remember the director of education calling me the “hardest working man in radio.”

At Specs, I got my first internship, which led to my first part-time job in radio as a board operator on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It was here where I met my first African American teachers, whose feet I sat at every single day. Representation does matter. It was the first time I ever saw people who looked like me in front of me, teaching.

Telling my CTE story

From there my life opened. My first full-time job was off-air in a major market. This then led to me moving away from home and working full-time on-air in a medium market. Later, I came home to go back to college. This time with direction, purpose, and nine credits that would transfer thanks to an articulation agreement. I spent the next 10 years going to school part-time while working full-time at Specs Howard, teaching what I loved.

My skill set began to grow. I took the experience I had gained into the public school district, where I worked as the program director, audio production director and liaison for their public radio station. Later, I became a digital media producer for the district; I developed video vignettes for the communications department.

Eventually, I re-enrolled at Specs Howard and got my digital media certification. Then I took a job as the director of multimedia for a local high school CTE program. I went back to school again, got a Master of Business Administration, and met my future wife.

Now I am a national CTE trainer for CAST; a second-year doctoral student focusing on curriculum and critical social inquiry; and a postsecondary leadership fellow studying diversity, equity and inclusion. Thanks to career and technical education, I found my self-esteem. I became a creative. I expanded the boundaries of what I could do, and I have never “worked” a day in my life. CTE gave me all of this. All I had to do is say these words on-air back in high school: “88.3 WSHJ. This is Diamond Don, and you’re in Dance Mix 86.”

Donald Walker is a CTE educator and a former radio DJ.

Read more in Techniques: Tell Me a Story of CTE.

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