Story and Photos by Jan Osborn.
Nakia Douglas serves as the Executive Director of the TRIO and Pre-Collegiate Programs at the University of North Texas at Dallas. The program encourages lower income and potential first-generation college students to complete secondary school, enroll in postsecondary education, and publicize the availability of—as well as facilitate the application for—student financial assistance for persons who seek to pursue postsecondary education or complete these programs. As a former participant of the Upward Bound Program, Nakia Douglas understands the importance of a quality education.
Nakia Douglas is the founding Principal of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy (BOMLA) and previously served as the Executive Director of the South Oak Cliff feeder pattern in Dallas ISD. Nakia has worked with students and communities from North Carolina, Georgetown, Pflugerville and Dallas, Texas as both a teacher and an administrator.
Describing himself as a “native son of Dallas,” Nakia says, “I grew up in a single-parent household. My father actually left when I was four years old, so those formative years were accelerated from the perspective of recognizing that I was essentially the man of the house with a two-month-old sister and had to take on a lot of self – perceived extra responsibilities.”
Nakia said that mentality carried over into the man he is today. “My mother valued education and sacrificed so my sister and I could attend private school from kindergarten to eighth grade at City Temple Junior Academy.” Nakia describes what began as their engagement in the community, from sports to extracurricular activities, would overlap on Saturdays when we had to go and attend events for the school because “as my mom said, ‘you know, they’ve helped support us when we couldn’t pay our tuition and continued to provide an education for us.’ That was just one of the sacrifices we had to make early on and we understood the value of education.”
Nakia considers it a privilege that he attended Lincoln Humanities/Communications Magnet High School. At Lincoln, Nakia says he “continued to blossom into a young man who became more conscientious, not only of myself but also my history as an African American and being of African descent. It changed my life.”
During his first visit with the high school counselor, Nakia learned about Upward Bound. “My mom walked in and explained to everyone in the Counselors Suite in her own unique way, ‘I don’t know about the rest of the kids, but this is my son and he is going to college, what programs do you have in place for him?’” Nakia remembers. “That day a recruiter, Mr. Jackson, for the Upward Bound program at SMU was there. The counselor introduced him to my mom and we sat down and talked. He talked about the opportunities to get away from home and have a collegiate experience while still in high school. And in some ways, be paid to just better myself academically, socially and emotionally. That began my journey with Upward Bound in my ninth grade year at Lincoln High School. Three Saturdays a month, we went to Upward Bound on the SMU campus and spent six weeks during the summer, away from our family. I put myself in an environment that helped me understand that I can, I should, and I will not only attend college, but after graduation from college, I would have a professional career.”
Even Nakia’s school clothes were a sacrifice, but his mother, along with the teachers in his life, were ready to do anything possible to provide the best education. “Looking back at my time in private school, my mom couldn’t always afford our uniforms and a lot of mine were passed down from other students,” Nakia says. “When my mom couldn’t pay the tuition and the school pulled us from class, the teachers would sneak our work to us in the office. At first, I wouldn’t do the work and told my mom to save money and put me in the neighborhood school so my sister could stay in private school. She said ‘No. I’ve sacrificed so that you won’t have to struggle and you will have a better education than what I had growing up. She said the best gift and thanks I could give her was to be successful in school.’ Looking back over those years of our mom’s sacrifice and commitment to our education, and to us as kids, I recognized that one of the best ways initially I could do it was just being thankful and doing well in school.”
It was this kind of commitment that transformed Nakia from a hardworking student into a passionate educator. “Honestly, I see it the same way with my students that I serve now,” explains Nakia. “The best gift that they can give us as educators, is to go out and be successful, break and redefine stereotypes, find their purpose in life, and seek out and go after it in such a way that they will have an impact that will last beyond our lifetimes, leaving a legacy. My mom’s legacy is her love and intentional expectations that she provided for us and that’s the same thing that I would say would be a part of my legacy as an educator as well.”
Nakia and three others from Lincoln attended undergrad at Livingstone College in Salisbury North Carolina on a full four-year scholarship within the Center for Teaching Excellence. At that time, Livingstone College was recruiting black males into education. Nakia says, “Livingstone taught us what in meant to be a professional educator, and more importantly, understanding our role as African American professional educators, going into the field and redefining stereotypes and creating a space and a lane for others; not only to be first educated in our classrooms, but to ultimately follow in our footsteps as well.”
Nakia’s father had a stroke in December, 1999 and needed to relearn everything that Nakia taught as a kindergarten teacher, so Nakia moved back to Dallas to lend a hand. “For a month and a half, I went from a classroom of 29 to a classroom of one,” he says. “I was basically teaching my father all of the motor skills, as you would a kindergarten child, but more importantly, rebuilding my relationship with my father.”
Nakia returned to teaching at DISD at Martin Luther King Learning Center and met a beautiful young lady named Gloria, who became his wife. “I didn’t know what the future would hold, but when my dad met her, he told me that she was the one. We have been married for nineteen years,” he says.
In 2011, after three previous principalships, Nakia was approached to lead the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy (BOMLA). “I received my first principalship at 29 years old at Maynard Jackson Vanguard School which became Maynard Jackson Middle School after the abundance of families who moved to our community after Hurricane Katrina,” explains Nakia. “We had success that first year academically and with the development of the athletic program. I was asked to then transition to feeder high school. I literally knew my students as their elementary, middle and high school principal for Maynard Jackson Vanguard, Maynard Jackson Middle, and then at A. Maceo Smith High School.”
Nakia says that when he was asked to lead the BOMLA, “it was nothing that I hadn’t been doing the last two years at A. Maceo Smith High School. We started our single gender classrooms, brought in more Pre-AP, AP and Dual Credit courses for the students and the professional development for the faculty and staff to ensure that they were successful. A. Maceo Smith helped develop BOMLA, and ultimately, myself in the leader that I have become. That was powerful, exciting and tough work, but that’s what I live for. I was put on this planet as a professional educator, to create an environment like I had at Lincoln and to create an environment like I had at City Temple where I understood that all kids deserve—a private school education at a public school cost.”
Nakia says that as faculty and staff of BOMLA, they went in with the mentality that their students were not only going to succeed academically, but that those young men were going to have success within their personal and professional lives. It starts and stops with their mission statement: develop young men into impactful leaders through the development of their intellectual, moral, physical, and social skills for the global scientific society and tomorrow. Nakia adds, “Beyond that, building better husbands, fathers, and leaders for our families and community.” Within six years the school earned a blue ribbon award and BOMLA has a 100% graduation rate from the campus to this day. Of the first two graduating classes, 80% have graduated from college.
Nakia went on to become an Executive Director of the South Oak Cliff feeder pattern, explaining, “I agreed to it with a caveat. I will agree to that move, if you will allow BOMLA to remain one of my schools that I serve and support.”
In October of 2017, Nakia transitioned to higher education and began working at The University of North Texas at Dallas. He said that while working on the BOMLA there was no physical space as the campus was under construction and UNT Dallas hosted meeting rooms for our planning sessions with support from Dr. Gloria Bahamon, the former Assistant Provost at UNT Dallas. Later in his tenure at BOMLA, he met Robert Mong, UNT Dallas President and the relationship between the campus and community grew again. “After assuming my role as the Executive Director of the Feeder Pattern, I was visiting UNT Dallas to discuss hosting an event there at the university. One conversation led to another and they bought up TRIO and said UNT Dallas has Upward Bound and McNair Scholars programs. I’m began shaking my head and words from my mom just kind of popped up saying ‘a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’ And I said what if I put my name in the hat.” One thing led to another and now Nakia Douglas serves as the Executive Director of TRIO and Pre-Collegiate Programs at UNT Dallas.
As a campus principal, Nakia frequently partnered with Paul Quinn, Texas A&M Commerce and UNT Denton to host student teachers and speak to their classes. Now within his role at the University he frequently shares his experiences as a professional educator with students at UNT Dallas. “Everything that I was given as a student, I feel it as an imperative to pay it forward,” says Nakia. “Now, the greatest joy I have is being able to build and develop programs that allow K-12 and higher education partnerships to exist where they haven’t traditionally existed. I have been blessed with the gift of creating, designing and implementing educational experiences that liberate the minds and hearts of people throughout the community.”
Nakia was selected to speak at TedxTurtleCreekWomen on the subject of “Changing the Face of Success”, is a past recipient of the SMU Luminary Award and was recently featured on WFAA Channel 8 during the series While I Have Your Attention.