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DPS Notable Derrick C. Stanfield: Focusing on Local Politics With a Global Point-of-View

Early College High School graduate Derrick Stanfield said his Durham Public Schools experience as a student at C.C. Spaulding, the School for Creative Studies (SCS), and the Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College was literally transformational. Currently serving as the Special Assistant to Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams, Stanfield moved to the Bull City with his mother and three older siblings from South Carolina during the second semester of third grade. His mother Leslie Stanfield– whom he credits for her hard work and unwavering support for each of her children– enrolled him at C.C. Spaulding Elementary School.

He says that the lessons he learned inside the brick-and-mortar building while a Spaulding student were just as significant to his growing success as the school’s proximity to North Carolina Central University. In fact, his exposure to Central was his introduction to Durham, he said.

“My most memorable experience was when the Duke football team would come and read to classes,” Derrick said. His mother enrolled him in Summer classes at Central, where he took S.T.E.M. classes in the BRITE building, and he notes the critical importance of the partnerships between DPS and universities.

“When you have universities like that around, there is a great amount of influence on the kid who doesn’t know what they want to do,” said Derrick.

Derrick left DPS for two years after his mother applied for a scholarship for him to attend a private school for two years, but returned to DPS for seventh grade.  

“My return felt like home, like me. There’s so much value in public school. I didn’t lose anything by attending (public school). I gained much.  Every school I attend I could brag on. SCS was first of its kind and the level of freedom given to students was empowering. The diverse group of people you are able to meet in a public school setting is unlike others.”

He was a member of the first class of the newly opened School for Creative Studies. Because it was the school’s first year, Derrick said he and his peers were included in the development of the school's mascot, colors, mission and vision. He said it was an experience he would never forget.

“It was such a new school. All of us had come from our home schools and we created our own SCS culture. Teachers and administrators sought to ensure that creativity was a part of the culture. We were stepping outside of the box,” Derrick said.

Derrick said his teachers at the School for Creative Studies are the ones who coached him through high school and college. There are three whom he says were particularly memorable.

Levon Barnes was Derrick’s gym teacher in seventh and eighth grades. Barnes founded the Young Male Achievers to create a system of support and guidance. “He was a mentor who created a family-like environment,” said Derrick.

Jamie Jackson was Derrick’s math teacher. “He had an idea of who I was going to become before I did. He was such a great influence on my time there,” he said.

Jackson always pushed him to be better and want more for himself.  “He pushed me to think past just an A.  He made me understand that I had more to offer.”

Derrick said his DPS teachers built relationships. “I didn't think I was necessarily special. It was the relationships that they sought to build that made the experience special.”

He added that Shanea Carr, his seventh and eighth grade English teacher, “was just all-around wonderful, like having a Mom in the classroom.”

It was his enrollment at Early College that catapulted his upward trajectory toward fulfilling his ambitions.

“Early College set the groundwork,” he said.

Derrick immediately set his sights on Central, making plans to matriculate there his Senior year of Early College.

“Early College is the shining jewel of DPS with the opportunity to take college classes in high school. I had no choice but to take full advantage while I was there. I earned 63 college credits.

I grew to love NCCU and the culture, and that was the only school I applied to. I really saw all that could be possible.”

Derrick graduated from Early College with highest honors in 2019. He was able to enroll at Central as a Junior. He majored in History and political science. While at NCCU, he was Student Body president and earned the Chancellor’s Award for Truth and Service his senior year, which is the highest honor for undergrad students for commitment to service, exemplification of good moral character and outstanding academic achievement in 2022. He also graduated a year early.

“At Early College, you really are given autonomy to essentially be your own boss.  We had to make decisions for our future as 14- and 15-year-olds, making decisions about the degree path to take. I had to take ownership for my future,” said Derrick.

He said he met the chair of Central’s history department, Dr. Jim Harper, while taking an elective

“He always was very outspoken. We built a relationship while I was making a decision about Central and what to major in,” Derrick said.

Since graduating from Central, Derrick has worked as a Presidential Scholar with the UNC System. This fellowship is one-year and rotational awarded to three graduates each year.  He then worked un the Public Law and Policy Practice at Akin Gump, a top ranked lobbying firm, spending time in Washington, D.C. in national politics in the healthcare and education policy arena. 

But he missed Durham and felt a calling to return. He’s brought his experiences back home to Durham saying that “this (local politics) has been more fulfilling because it’s so close to the ground. I’m working in my hometown, learning about my community in ways I didn't know before. I can help Mayor Williams achieve his goals and priorities and address community needs.”

As a key player in the political process, Derrick said he has regular conversations with his peers.  He spends time encouraging them to be involved and engaged.

“It’s always very difficult for my peers to want to be engaged politically because it can be such a scary thing, and there’s a belief that things don’t really get done. But if you’re on the fence about voting, think about the impact your City Council, Mayor, state legislators can make. Focus on local,” he said.

Derrick said he believes it’s valuable for people to understand what’s going on.  However folks get their news or stay up to date, we must feel comfortable having conversations about current events, not to be right or wrong, but to see opportunities where we can agree.

Derrick plans to attend law school and return again to practice some area of law in the public interest. While he enjoys local government, there may be space in his career for non-profit work as well, he says. “Some things are naturally transferable,” he said

What he can almost guarantee is a life of service, he said, despite his acknowledgement that “this is very thankless work.” But “the sky's the limit. I’m very open right now.”

But for now, he’s committed to bringing young adults into the work. Mayor Williams’ vision included young people so he’s all in.

“His vision for the City is something that is very refreshing for myself and alot of young people and community members at large. It was an easy decision for me to come join the team and implement some of the goals and vision for the next couple of years,” he said. “I’m doing what I can.”