My Brother's Keeper of Greater Richmond

"Encouraging Brothers Through the Storms of Life"

Journey to Manhood                                                                            May 1, 2016

Darrell Long, Assistant Program Director

Gates to Success

by Monica Haynes

When Darrell Long left Virginia to attend college on a basketball scholarship, his career plan consisted of three letters --- NBA.

The 6 ‘ 3” inch Long was playing guard for Keene State College in New Hampshire, a far cry from Wicomico Church, VA in Northumberland County where he’d grown up. “It was a good experience because I saw a lot of places I probably wouldn’t have,” he explained. Long majored in Business Management at Keene, but like most young players he dreamed of a professional basketball career. However, a knee injury batted that dream away like a blocked shot.

Today, at 50, Long is assistant program director and case manager for Gates to Success, a Richmond program that helps young people transition from adolescence to adulthood. However, between where he is today and where he thought he’d be 30 years ago, were a lot of ups and downs.

“I didn’t have a Plan B,” Long concedes referring to an alternative to his pro sports goal. After finishing college with a degree in business management, “I started out working with my cousin in his cleaning business.” Then, he moved in with his grandmother and spent two years working construction.

But his parents, Josephine (now deceased) and James, both of whom were teachers, knew their son had way more potential than his vocations indicated. They convinced him to return to college to further his education. He then went to Hampton University where he earned a master’s degree in counseling.

Long, who was born in North Carolina, moved with his parents and younger sister, Deirdre, to Virginia when he was about six. He recalls growing up in a small community where everyone knew everyone and where his family especially stood out because his father was in politics. “We had a good relationship, he said regarding him and his parents. “They were strict,” he said adding that he was at times the rebellious one. “Growing up, it could get rocky because I wanted to buck against the system.” Like most teens, he thought he knew everything and could do fine on his own.

Now, as a father to a 23-year-old daughter, DaRelle, and a 20-year-old son, Russell, Long said he has a much better understanding of the discipline and values, his father tried to impart. As a young married father in the early 1990s, he recalls a particularly dark part of his life when construction work was sporadic. “I started drinking a little more, experimenting with things, kind of trying to hide the pain that I couldn’t be the breadwinner,” Long explained. Because he was living in a small town where everyone knows who you are and what you’re up to, he would drive to Richmond to hang out with his friends. “Basically we were under a microscope. You want to present that you’re doing well, but you want to be real, too,” Long said. But one day, he said, his children came into his room and looked at him as if to say, “what’s wrong with you?”

It was the motivation he needed to straighten up and fly right. “I stopped driving to Richmond. I had to leave some of my friends alone,” Long said. “You’ve got to know when not to hang around them. You’ve got to know that you’ve got a great agenda on your plate to fulfill.”

Long started getting up at 5 a.m. every morning to run, then he’d watch a series of TV ministries, T.D. James, Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyers. “And I would pray and I would demand of God, I want this, I want this.” A month later, his mother called to tell him about an opening for a Physical Education teacher in Northumberland Elementary School. “I went and knocked out the interview.”

He spent five years as a Phys Ed teacher before being promoted to Dean of Students, a position where he was in charge of student discipline. “People don’t realize how many elementary schools, as far as discipline wise, were worse than high schools. People were amazed that I had to suspend kindergartners.” Long held that job for five years and then became an assistant high school principal at Petersburg, a job he held while working on Master’s in School Administration. “The funny thing is when I first went to college, I just did enough so I could be eligible [to play basketball]. Each time I when I went to grad school it got easier and easier because I could focus on what I was doing.”

Now at Gates to Success, he is a guiding force to help young people keep their focus as they make their way into the adult world. It’s a job that kind of evolved into just what he needed it to be. Initially, it was a part-time job Long had stumbled upon in his search to find a job in Richmond so he did not have to commute. But Long needed a full-time position because he has two children in college. He needed a certain salary, too. Believe it or not what was once going to be a part-time job became a full-time position with benefits and an apartment. “My belief has gotten stronger over the years. God knows where I came from.”