Tristan Love, a former gang member, benefitted from mentoring and the resources of Communities In Schools, and is now giving back to students as a middle school principal.
The fire that roared through Tristan Love’s Houston home destroyed everything. The 16-year-old was left with nothing but the clothes on his back. But Love also credits that same fire for saving his life. The day after the fire, he was referred to Communities In Schools of Houston, Texas, where he began a partnership that put him on the path for success.
“My struggle made me who am I today,” said Love. “If not for that fire, I would not have had so many life-altering people in my world.”
When Love was 12, he joined a gang. During his freshman year of high school, he started a massive gang fight and was kicked out. He ran away from home, choosing to live with gang members, friends and extended family members. Then two friends died that summer from gang-related activities. Shaken, Love redirected his focus back to school. He moved in with his father and worked on improving his grades.
It was during Love’s junior year at Booker T. Washington High School that he was called into the principal’s office with the news that his house had burned down. Communities In Schools stepped in immediately and provided him with social services, clothing and school supplies, and made sure Love came to school and stayed on track to graduate. Love was also grateful that the resources extended to helping take some of the financial burden from his father who was living off a small retirement income.
That same year, Communities In Schools of Houston arranged for Love and a group of students to participate in a national youth conference. It was where Love would meet his mentor, Pat Rosenberg, and have another life-changing experience.
“Miss Pat saw something in me that I did not see in myself and provided the academic guidance that helped me plan for a better future,” said Love, who admitted to initially being guarded. “I came to learn she was someone I could talk to any time. That made a big impact on me.”
Working with Rosenberg, Love mapped out a strategy for his success that included college campus visits and applications for financial aid. Ultimately the concept of college became a reality. Supported by resources provided by Communities In Schools, Love graduated from high school in the top 10 percent of his class and enrolled in Wiley College, in Marshall, Texas, on a full scholarship.
At Wiley, Love was a member of the school’s famed Great Debaters’ club, was president of the student government association and the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and began mentoring high school and college youth. After graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Love was accepted in the Teach For America 2013 Houston Corps. After summer training, he started work as a ninth-grade science teacher at Sam Houston High School. “It was always my intention to come back and give back to my community.”
“My family and I are very proud that Tristan has taken what he has learned and impacted so many young people,” said Rosenberg, a Communities In Schools of Houston board member. “When you help one, you can help many more through that relationship. He makes it a priority to nurture young people all the time, so that everyone can make a difference.”
As of March 2019, at age 28, Love is the principal at Panorama Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "I'm now proudly one of the youngest principals in the state. I am only at this point because I had caring adults, caring community members, caring teachers, I had a support system, I had a lot of help. But first, that started with me being reflective on my world, on the world that I experienced every day, and doing an assessment check on what I needed to be a better Tristan," Love says.
Love readily acknowledges the critical role Communities In Schools played in putting him on the path to where he is today. “You need people who genuinely care about your well-being and don’t see it as just a job. My site coordinator and mentor went beyond the call of duty to give me a chance at a better life.”