Name: Peter L. Dent
Profession: Educator/ Debate Coach/ Artist
One Word That Describes You: Passionate
What is your “Extraordinary Impact?”
As a seventh grader many years ago, my math teacher became enraged, slammed his textbook on the desk and exclaimed to a class filled with 12-year-old black boys to shut up and learn the fractions. He barked this will help us so WHEN we start robbing people we can at least split the money fairly. I’ll never forgot the way I felt when he said those words.
My extraordinary impact comes from the fact that I possess a deep awareness as to the struggles that my students face daily outside as well as inside of school. I know because I’ve dealt with much of the same as I grew up on the difficult streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn. I prepare my lessons conscious of the fact that I’m competing with a plethora of distractions. I install rigor and layers of depth into all my lessons, I also ensure that they interesting, engaging, and purposeful. I prepare with the end in mind because where they’re coming from is not as important as where I need them to go.
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Receiving this distinction is a tremendous honor. It is also humbling given that the previous recipients achievements, vast and varied, are so notable and extraordinary.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
In 2002, with two degrees in art and design, I began my pursuit of a graduate degree in education. I had also began my conditional employment as a third grade teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools. Juggling full-time employment and full-time school while raising three children ages 2 to 6 took everything I had. However I continued moving forward and eventually graduated magna cum laude in December 2003.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Integrity. The people that I genuinely respect the most not only reflect high moral character but are guided by core principles of goodness and fairness.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Young Audiences Arts for Learning in Maryland—Our goal is to bring high quality, arts integrated instruction that is accessible, supportive, and welcoming to children of all backgrounds. Baltimore City Public Schools students who’ve participated in our program gained ground on their national peers in standardized testing according to most recent evaluations.
Baltimore Urban Debate League—Six years ago I organized a competitive policy debate league in our school for fifth to eighth graders. We were so successful that we joined the more expansive Baltimore Urban league and competed against other students from around the Baltimore/ Washington, D.C., area. To date we’ve earned over 200 trophies, medals, and plaques. I was also recently awarded the distinction Baltimore City Debate Coach of the Year. This year I plan to extend this program to third and fourth grade.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Do not aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference. Years from now it will not matter how much money you’ve made or how many material things you’ve acquired. What will be remembered and hopefully heralded will be the impact you’ve made in the lives of others.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Identify your gifts or special qualities. What traits do you possess that cannot be readily identified in others? You cannot be an agent of change if you’re a rubber stamp/carbon copy of everyone else. If you cannot identify such a quality then go out and get it. Take a course, learn a program or language. Do something.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I work backward. I envision the end result and then identify the steps that I would have to take to effectively arrive at my destination.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
Long before entering the field of education I was, and frankly still am, an artist. My vacations always include my sketchbooks with India ink, watercolor, and pen. Some years ago I returned to the island of Jamaica (where I was born) and spent two weeks compiling drawings of the natives. I also included notes based on my extensive conversations with them. It ultimately became a visual journal of sorts.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’d have to say St. Lucia. With its lush rainforests and majestic mountains, the landscape appears almost perfect. It seems to come closest to what I always envisioned ‘paradise’ to be.
Anything else you’d like to say?
The field of education is perhaps the greatest one anyone can hope to enter. It is one of only a handful where you can have the most impact on the future of our country and our world. What our teachers do today must be done with extreme love and care. It should also be done exceptionally well and thorough enough for our children to have real hope of competing on the world stage tomorrow.
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @BEModernMan and join the conversation using #BEModernMan.
Come celebrate the BE Modern Man 100 Men of Distinction at the first-ever Black Men XCEL Summit, Aug. 30 – Sept. 3, at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.