|In 2011, Christopher Dean shared the stage with President Obama, BTW's principal|
Alisha Kiner and then-Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Monday, July 11, 2016
Introducing Obama gives Dean a leg up in life
When you add favor, good fortune and opportunity, you get Christopher Dean, the Booker T. Washington High School (BTW) senior who was catapulted into the national spotlight in 2011 after his heartfelt introduction of President Barack Obama, who delivered the school’s commencement address at the Cook Convention Center.
Dean has since parlayed that opportunity into good fortune, which followed him to Lane College, a historically black college in Jackson, Tenn., and to the White House and The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ daily newspaper, to work as an intern.
What Dean leaned at the White House was kind of other-worldly compared to the rough and rugged streets in South Memphis, a community grappling with poverty, high teen pregnancy, escalating HIV/AIDS cases, and gang infestation. So he learned survival skills quickly
“I did my best anyway, and I competed to the highest level there is. There’s nothing that can take that away from me,” said Dean, 24, crediting BTW’s principal Alisha Kiner for steering him in the right direction and drawing out of him the true spirit of a “Warrior,” the school’s mascot.
He learned a lot working with White House staffers on “Ban the Box,” a bill that gives applicants convicted of a crime a fair shot at a job; “My Brother’s Keeper,” a White House initiative focusing on building bridges of opportunities for young people; and “Let Girls Learn,” also a White House “initiative, but aimed at helping adolescent girls attain a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential.”
Dean stood out among the 155 graduates that year at BTW – not only because of the chance encounter with Present Obama, but because he beat the odds. South Memphis is as rough as a community can get. His father was shot 20 times in a gang shootout when Dean was five, which left his mother with four children to tend to in the projects.
Gangs were aplenty. Dean grew up among them and befriended Gangster Disciples and the Crips. “Growing up in South Memphis didn’t show me things that I wanted, it showed me things that I didn’t want,” he said. “Everybody around me was doing the same thing. I was determined to be different.”
Dean’s determination to be different was fueled long before meeting the president. “I knew the attention would fade. I wasn’t going to try to live off his name,” he said. “It’s a hunger in my stomach that’s not for food. It’s for success. It’s for surviving.”
If the president had not chosen BTW to visit, Dean said he still would have found a way to make it out of the ghetto unscathed. “I would’ve found a way to get out of here,” he said. “It wasn’t because I introduced the president and went to Lane (college), I was planning to go to Lane.”
Dean will never forget rubbing shoulders with the president of the United States. Neither would his family, friends, strangers, and those who wished him God-speed. “They call it 15 minutes of fame for a reason,” he said. “It’s not all shiny lights like people believe.”
It wasn’t all for naught, either. Now that Dean has graduated college – in April of this year – he’s back home creating documentaries, which he’d done as an intern for The Commercial Appeal. He also lives in a two-bedroom house and cuts his own grass.
“I lived in an apartment my entire life,” said Dean, whose ultimate goal is to create documentaries and spread happiness. “This is all I ask for. I don’t want to be famous. I want to do what I love to do and be happy doing it.”