With kids learning from home as schools globally shutter to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, some students began looking for guidance to cope with the unknown.
They called Dwayne Bryant, their mentor, teacher and coach.
“They were like, ‘Mr. Bryant, what are we going to do? We need your voice right now, these kids need your voice. Why haven’t you posted anything?” recalled Bryant, a Delray Beach resident who is founder and president of Chicago-based Inner Vision International, Inc. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know what to do,’ and he was like, ‘Wait, we don’t have time to worry about that now. You need to put some stuff up.’”
Bryant called another mentee, who had the same concern. The young man, a student in film and video with a concentration in production at Chicago’s Columbia College, offered to put his expertise to use.
In less than two weeks, the duo converted Bryant’s home into small studios and created several powerful and highly engaging digital learning content and workshops. They focused on goal setting, time management, conflict resolution and bullying, joining the field of schools in the scramble to move teaching and learning online.
Bryant has leveraged the relationship between teacher and learner. His programs are interactive, allowing the parent or teacher to play the content, pause and have a conversation with the student.
The programs are built on his evidence-based Social Emotional Learning curriculum series that has served as a national model in transforming the life trajectory of urban youth.
Blondean Y. Davis, superintendent of Matteson (Illinois) School District 162 since 2002, said she called on Bryant when she “needed a highly engaging message of hope and life skills to permeate the homes of” her families in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mr. Bryant was able to readjust with our district to create highly engaging content for our families to continue to focus on being successful individuals as well as productive citizens,” Davis said. “I believe this content would positively impact families across the entire nation.”
His impact is also local.
“I can’t stop thinking about our session especially the team building component. I noticed a shift in my staff during that activity and afterwards,” Principal, LaToya Dixon of Village Academy wrote after he did a ‘Building the Winning Team’ workshop for her teachers last year.
Bryant, a former bully, uses his personal experience and bases his lessons on life trials and triumphs with which the students can identify. They have and will continue to inspire thousands of students in having the mental strength to overcome adversity and fear, especially through this pandemic.
“This is important because the prefrontal cortex of a human being is not developed until their mid ’20s, therefore, their ability to focus, their ability to reason is not developed,” said Bryant, who holds dual degrees in business finance and international business from Florida International
University. “They have never seen or never felt the level of turmoil, the level of uncertainty, the level of disappointment and the level of heartbreak that they are experiencing.”
Some of Bryant’s students have lost loved ones to the coronavirus and are seeking answers.
“They’re going to have birthdays and no one will be showing up, and momma will not be going to the store to get cupcakes. So, they’re going to have to deal with the new reality,” he added. “A lot of the students don’t have the coping skills to get through this productively.”
He is dubbed “The Child Whisperer” and the “Urban Mr. Rogers” for his uncanny ability to reach parents and students at all levels.
He helps to navigate the uncomfortable paths of life, which will be critical for parents and students as they address their social and emotional needs during this pandemic.
“We know that our children and parents are home so what we’re trying to do is bring life skills and character development into the homes while they’re both there,” said Bryant whose presentations are often laced with encouragement, inspiration and a challenge to the young people to take control of their lives and deal with difficult situations. “We also know, according to the CDC, that the average parents spend less than 10 minutes a day talking to their children. They don’t know how to have a conversation with them. And so what we’re doing is developing a constructive dialogue for them.”
Since leaving his six-figure job with Johnson & Johnson in 1997, he has been crisscrossing the country empowering inner city youth.
He made three guest appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and served as the TV host of “Know Your Heritage,” a weekly multi-cultural quiz show, in Chicago, which ran for two consecutive years.
Bryant has officiated several newsworthy events including serving as master of ceremonies for President Obama’s Library Unity Breakfast in Chicago, speaker at Claflin University’s Spring Convocation and at his alma mater.
“Serving as the master of ceremony, Dwayne Bryant brought his vibrant, energetic, motivational talents to our Community Leaders Summit, helping us to bring together top leaders in our community to map out FIU’s future, including our capital campaign and strategic plan,” Mark Rosenberg, president of FIU wrote. “We’re proud to count him as one of our Worlds Ahead alumni!”
Bryant’s life models his teachings and he has been on a pursuit to make this world a better place for more than two decades. From the classroom to the boardroom, the Winter Park, Florida, native is the living embodiment of making it against all odds.
Despite growing up in a single-parent home, Bryant viewed his situation as an opportunity to overcome his environment and use his challenges as a platform to inspire others.