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Joshua Dyson: Use Life’s Experiences to Help Others

The "tough love" Joshua Dyson received from his peers while growing up in DC served as a catalyst that continues to fuel his desire to help youth and improve his community. He remembers the teasing and taunts he heard as a 10-year-old who took a bus to attend a 'special' school rather than walking to school with the neighborhood kids. "I didn't want people to know I attended a special ED school. I didn't like being in what other kids called the 'slow class.' But my mom kept telling me I was special, not because of what others think of me but because God said I was special. I later realized nothing was wrong with me; I just learned differently."

Eventually, Joshua transitioned to DC public schools, and with encouragement from his mom and supportive teachers, he connected with the Rehabilitation Services Administration's (RSA) Transition Program. After graduating from H.D. Woodson High School in 2012, he attended Clemson University in South Carolina where he experienced a bit of culture shock, being among a majority white student population for the first time. After a brief adjustment period, he began to make friends by joining the rugby team and then the nationally recognized teacher leadership program Call Me MISTER.

Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models (MISTER) seeks to attract students from diverse backgrounds to the field of education and teach in low-performing elementary schools. While in South Carolina, Joshua was actively engaged in the Razor Reader program that sought to increase the literacy rates among young African American children. He and other participants would go to local barbershops and read to children waiting for haircuts. Upon earning a bachelor's degree in psychology and Special Education, Joshua returned to DC, worked part-time with the Urban Alliance, and briefly with Boys Town DC. At Boys Town, he worked as a care coordination consultant, helping families and youth identify the root causes of chronic absenteeism and designing strategies to put students on the path to academic success. Joshua also spent four years as a teacher with KIPP DC, teaching math to students in the special education program. He pursued employment with those organizations because of a keen sense of civic responsibility. "Everyone should do something that helps others or improves their community." That passion for helping others led Joshua to his current role as a Youth Development Representative with the DC Department of Youth Services (DYRS).

Recognized by his supervisor as an Employee of the Month, Joshua received similar acknowledgment from DYRS instructors, earning the title Employee of the Week for his supportive demeanor with adjudicated youth and staff. He noted that working with youth in a secure facility is another way to impact youth. "Many of the kids are in here because of bad decisions they made. My job is to remind them that their lives are not over and help them learn how to positively reengage with school and society by making better decisions. A few ways Joshua supports the 15- and 16-year-olds is by creatively introducing structured activities, such as Bingo, which helps youth understand social and emotional behavior. Yoga assists with stress management, and small group discussions help participants to reflect on their day, to determine how well it went, and what steps will lead to a productive tomorrow.

One lesson Joshua has learned thus far on his journey is that it is essential to 'control what we can control.' “A person has no control over whether or not they have a disability. They do control how they think about the disability. Don't get caught on the label; focus on what you can do and do it to the best of your ability." Joshua is applying that same positivity to his quest to become a clinical social worker. He enters graduate school later this year and plans to eventually open a wellness gym in his community to address the mental and physical health needs, and interests of residents. Joshua lives by a familiar quote: The only disability is a bad attitude. He challenges people with and without disabilities to ask: "What is the disability preventing you from doing? Are you incapable of pursuing your goals, or do you need a mind shift?