Pioneer Profile: 10 Questions for our EPic Alum Eldrin L. Deas

Eldrin L. Deas serves as an education consultant. Read more about Eldrin and his work.

1 | Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in Atlanta, GA. It’s a beautiful city. It’s the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Outkast. There’s an episode of Futurama, which is set 1,000 years in the future, called “The Deep South” in which the main characters come across the Lost City of Atlanta. They poke fun at Atlanta as being mostly an airport and the home of Coca-Cola. But, for me, it was more like life in Donald Glover’s new show, Atlanta. There’s the complexity of post-1996 Olympic development and an array of social, economic, and political issues, but… then there’s the elegant simplicity of getting the hookup on lemon pepper wings at your favorite lunch spot.

2 | What do you like most about where you live now?

I'm now living in Durham, NC. I really like the arts scene here. From the Durham Performing Arts Center to Carolina Theatre to UNC-Chapel Hill's own Memorial Hall, there is always something going on.

Then, there's the food. There's always a new restaurant to try and a lot of amazingly diverse cuisine. However, I've also learned some important lessons; like, if you go to a restaurant and order 'sweetbreads'... you should neither expect bread nor a dish that is sweet. Maybe other people already knew this. I did not.

3 | What is your favorite school memory?

From elementary school, I remember running down this big hill in front of the school for no other reason than running being fun. That has, of course, changed in my adult life. From middle school, it was performing at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. From high school, my favorite memory is performing a song that I wrote for our orchestra at the last concert of my senior year; then, later that night, hopping on a bus and going to Disney World. On the concert’s program, it was Bach, Vivaldi, and Deas… fun times.

4 | Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire?

I really admire John Coltrane. He was deeply reflective and strived for continuous improvement. He spent his life trying to make connections to people all over the world. His art transcended its medium. He was a true innovator. His work opened up for me a world of infinite creative and professional possibilities.

5 | When was the first time you thought about working in education?

My first time thinking about working in education is probably not all that interesting, but deciding to stay in education was big for me. I was a high school math teacher and realized that I wanted to know more and do more for my students. So I sought ways to have a bigger impact. That led me up and down the east coast over the past several years, doing anything that kept me connected to communities and the schools that serve them.

6 | What has been your most memorable moment working in education?

There have been a lot of great moments, but the most memorable are any that put me in the company of the greatest thinkers of our time: tiny humans. Going to Minnesota to do an arts integration program evaluation and getting to watch third graders learn about storytelling or helping to open an early childhood center in New London, CT and having kindergarteners ask me questions about what I do re-energizes me and keeps me focused on why I do this work.

7 | What do love about your job?

I love that I am in a position to be able to connect my diverse experiences in a meaningful way. Having spent time in the local and state level K-12 world, higher education, test development, program evaluation, and civil rights, I have a somewhat unique perspective. In my current work, I am able to leverage that perspective to offer creative insight to a variety of projects to address issues that have a deep impact for students, teachers, families, and anyone interested in making education systems more equitable and accessible.

8 | If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would fix or change?

If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over the eyes of people who see certain groups of students as deficient so they could see the richness and brilliance these students bring to the classroom. I would hope that with these new eyes, these folks would also see students as whole and complete humans with the capacity for greatness. If we reform our conversations about students, then we can work on reforming schools.

9 | What are you still learning to do?

I am still learning to communicate more effectively and more broadly. I took German for seven years, Spanish for four years, and even learned a bit of native Hawaiian in the course of my work. But, I really want to learn sign language. I know the alphabet and some basic expressions, but I’d only be able to communicate through sign language if the person I’m engaging with had quite a lot of time on his or her hands. I found a nearby community college that offers ASL courses, so now I just need to find time to enroll.

10 | What or who inspires you?

I am deeply inspired by the artists of the world. In my mind, art is the beginning of any revolution. There are writers, dancers, painters, musicians, sculptors, and countless others all around us with the power of life, death, joy, and pain all in the stroke of a brush or the pluck of a string. The people who use their creativity to both critique and celebrate their world inspire me to use whatever gifts I have to make the world a better place.

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