A Principal’s Purpose in the Heart of Detroit

May 09, 2019

Air Date: May 9, 2019

Johnathon Matthews grew up on the city’s west side. He was a star student with dreams of becoming a lawyer. But those plans changed when he learned that violence knows no bounds.

Johnathan: I went to a party and ended up getting shot on the college campus and nearly lost my life. This was happening every day in Detroit I had never really understood it.

What he did understand is that change was necessary and how better to affect change than working directly with inner city kids as Principal of Pershing High School.

Johnathan: The first thing you see when you go into an inner city neighborhood is this lack of hope and when there’s lack of hope there’s a lack of purpose. It just blew me away that there is young people that just didn’t see a purpose in life.

So he and other school administrators got to work restructuring overcrowded high schools to give students the chance to find their purpose.

Johnathon: The main goal was to shrink schools into a point where every child felt like there was a caring adult someone that they can attach to and we knew that that couldn’t happen with two thousand students in one large urban high school.

Smaller schools were created and the students were divided into cohorts of 25. From 9th grade to graduation these students shared every class and became a family. Violence dropped and graduation rates soared.

Mitch: Did you ever stop to think what your life would be If you had not gotten shot?

Johnathan: I grew up trying to think about just being quote on quote successful and now I feel like my life does have a purpose.

And that purpose is to inspire his students every day right here in the heart of Detroit.