Journey to Manhood
Corey Gibson, Educator, Minister
by Monica Haynes
It only takes a few minutes of conversation with Corey Gibson to realize that he has a calling on his life, even before he declares it himself. Gibson, who teaches fourth grade at Chimborazo Elementary School in the Richmond Public Schools, comes across as a young man devoted to the educational process and to showing his students the possibilities it can provide.
“I knew all that came from education,” Gibson said. “If it could take me from where I was and elevate me to another level then I wanted to go back and be able to tell other people that it could do the same for them.”
The 26-year-old Buffalo native, who came to Richmond eight years ago to attend Virginia Union University, said the educational opportunities afforded to him are what motivated him to become an educator. “Just seeing how it allowed me to leave Buffalo and allowed me to create not only a better place for myself, but for those in my community to see someone who actually went off to school,” Gibson explained. “The Saturday before I left [for college], I was having a conversation with some of my friends, and I remember distinctly telling them that it wasn’t that I was the smartest person from my neighborhood or the smartest person in my family, it was actually because I tried. I made sure that I was someone who decided to be part of the game and not just allow it to pass me by.”
Indeed, Gibson’s mother did not allow any educational opportunities to pass by her son, either. From kindergarten through high school, he attended private schools. “My father passed when I was six-years-old. Even before then, I was raised in a single-parent home by my mother.” The family attended church every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday. “My mother always wanted the best for me,” Gibson said. “She made sure I did not want for too much. That’s not to say that I got everything that I wanted, but she made sure I had everything that I needed.”
His private school education was paid for via various scholarships, including a full four-year scholarship to Bishop Timon St. Jude High School, which was located in South Buffalo, a far cry from his East Buffalo neighborhood. “Even though, I attended private schools, it was always interesting thing to come back and see the condition of my particular community. I believe that unique experience and having that contrast actually helped me develop into who I am.,” Gibson said.
When the time came to select a college, Gibson chose Virginia Union because several of his church’s pastors had matriculated there. “I grew up in the church and I had always had a calling on my life, but most of the influential and positive African American men who were in that area were Virginia Union grads,” Gibson said. “I was accepted at several other schools, but there was just something about Virginia Union that appealed to me.”
Initially, Gibson said he underwent a bit of a culture shock when he hit the VU campus. “I would say it was a challenge, at first.” The thing that seemed to perplex the young undergrad the most, he said, was being in a classroom with some African American students who, although they came from well-educated families of means, did not share the same drive for academic excellence that he had. “For me, it was almost as if I had come into contact with a real life W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. We always heard about the different they had as it related to the progression of African Americans. Just seeing that firsthand, it was something that I struggled with at first because I wanted to see just where exactly I fit in that whole scope.”
By the time the first semester was up, Gibson had found a group of like-minded friends and his place at Virginia Union. After graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies-Exceptional Education, he enrolled in VU’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, where he earned a Master’s in Divinity.
In the classroom, he diligently heralds the importance of education to his students, although, he admits for many there is a disconnect between previous generations of African Americans who saw education as the necessary stepping stone to advancement and current generations, who don’t give education the same weight. “I think that we don’t understand the sacrifices that were made to be where we are,” Gibson said. “I always emphasize that with my students. Somebody died so you can sit in the seats you’re in today. And for you not to value your education, for you not to take ownership of your own education process, it shows that you don’t embrace nor do you fully understand all that went into getting you to this point.”
So what will it take to bridge the gap?
“I think it takes the previous generation to remind them in a way in which it doesn’t seem as if I’m beating you down for not knowing but instead I do it out of a place in love and I do it out of a place where as I want to see you grow more,” Gibson said. “As much as I may not know where I come from in depth, if I’m looking at someone who claims to know but they look at me and they speak down upon me, then in my mind that’s not something I want to be a part of. But if they look at me and they view me as someone who does not know but who wants to know, and they take me under their wing, so to speak, and help to groom me and help to serve as a mentor to me, then that’s something I’ll always cherish. I’ll remember and as a result I’ll not only gain ownership of my life and all that I have but I’ll actually pass that on to someone else.”
Outside the classroom, Gibson serves as a youth minister for First African Baptist Church, where Rodney D. Waller is pastor. “Having the chance to have that as my ministry outside the classroom, it’s helped both of my worlds,” he said. “I do believe there should not be a large gap between the education process and the community of faith.” Eventually, Gibson, who feels he’s been called to be a pastor, would like to narrow that gap by heading up a church-affiliated school.
”Ultimately, I just want to make a difference in the lives of people; people in general but specifically my people because we’re hurting and we don’t realize our potential all the time. We don’t realize the greatness all the time that we possess,” Gibson said. “I feel if we can bring that out of people and we can start building up our communities, we’ll start to take ownership of it and we won’t have to wait for people to tell us what we can have, what we can be, what we can do.”