SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — From the moment you walk into Southside Academy Charter School, you can feel and see the love.
JT Houston, the Director of School Climate and Culture, embraces almost every student before they head to class and after they are settled in, he picks four to six students to do the morning announcements. The goal: Kickstart the day with positivity and love.
“When the kids walk through those doors, I’m the first person they see and they could have dealt with everything outside of school, but when they come in here, I tell them I’ll be a big brother, father figure, whatever they need,” Houston said.
For Houston, this isn’t just a job, it is a personal mission because when he looks at the kids, he sees himself.
“I was a kid who was told I would be dead by the time I was 20,” Houston remembered. “I grew up in the same system and was pushed out at the same age, though I turned it around, I could have been another statistic and be on the streets right now.”
Growing up in Syracuse, violence was commonplace for him. He lost 12 friends before he was 21, but it was the death of his cousin that shifted everything.
“Once he was killed, that was the wakeup call, right before I went to the 9th grade,” Houston said.
That changed his trajectory. Sports and mentorship got him on the right track. But then, after he went off to college, tragedy hit again when his brother committed suicide, which had a profound impact on him. He didn’t want any other kids to feel what his brother felt. So he created an outlet called H2Fitness to help kids and adults get fit while promoting positivity.
He knows that mental health is just as important. At school, he works closely with social worker Stacie Mills to promote a healthy mind, body, and spirit, to reach each student as they navigate through the day. To see his full story, watch the video above.
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For more local news, follow Jennifer Sanders on Twitter @JSandersNC9