Photo by Phyenix Young-White.
Q: So were you born and raised entirely in Poughkeepsie?
A: I was born in St. Thomas, Jamaica, actually, in the West Indies. In August 1990 I moved to Poughkeepsie. I was 8 years old. I would say I was raised here in Poughkeepsie.
Q: When you moved here, was it with both your mother and your father? And are they still around?
A: Yeah, well my mom still lives here in Poughkeepsie. My dad brought me here directly from Jamaica. He lives in Queens now. He comes up pretty much every few months and hangs out with me and my family and everything like that.
Q: Do you have siblings?
A: Yeah, actually I’m the oldest of nine. My sister who’s a doctor, she lives in the Town of Poughkeepsie, near the Galleria Mall. Some others went off to college in other places and ended up staying near there. I have a brother who went to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, and now he works there.
Q: Are any in Poughkeepsie?
A: One of my youngest sisters is here. My youngest brother also lived here, but unfortunately he was murdered here about a year and a half ago, when he was 21. It was crazy, 2019 was a rough year for our family.
Q: As the oldest, have you had a lot of responsibility for your siblings over the years?
A: Actually, I feel like my siblings are the reason I’m in Poughkeepsie. I received a scholarship to go to two different black colleges in the south. I was an accomplished musician/drummer coming out of high school and I had an opportunity to go down south and go to different historically black colleges to play in their drum lines. I really wanted to go badly. But at the time when I was graduating high school, my siblings were still in elementary school and middle school, and I just felt like I needed to be here. So yeah, family is the reason why I decided to stay local and attended Marist College. There’s a foundation of why I’m still here. I’m glad I decided to do that, it was the right thing.
Q: Do you still play the drums?
A: Yes. I played in the jazz band In high school, and in the jazz band and the pep band in college. I formed my own funk band while I was at Marist, which was actually really good. We played all over, from 2001 to 2006 when I graduated. I still stay in contact with all the guys from the band. I’m still connected to the music department at Marist. I started out playing at my local church, Smith Metropolitan AME Zion here in Poughkeepsie.
Q: So your church is on the northside, did you live in that part of Poughkeepsie as well?
Yeah, on Lent Street at first. Then we moved to the local projects around the city. At Charles Street, and then at “The Bricks” on Hudson Avenue. In my high school years at Tubman. When I graduated and went to Marist I lived on campus. I was able to get my own apartment by senior year.
Q: By the way, what was the name of the band you started at Marist?
A: Funk 101. Yeah it was cool. We branched out from campus to places all over Poughkeepsie. As we became more popular, we would do special gigs, sometimes with local artists, when they would need a live band to back them up for a show. We would travel with them, from New York City to like Connecticut. It was a good time.
We performed at awards shows at Poughkeepsie High School, the Prestige Awards. They were organized by Derek Wilson. He grew up in Poughkeepsie and he was the road manager for Whitney Houston and Usher. And when he came home he would do these awards shows, and honor local people who were doing big things in the community. He would also have stars come to these shows to be a guest speaker, and even to be honored. It was a really cool thing. He did it for like three years. Then I think after Whitney died he was just kind of emotionally overwhelmed and stopped. I was actually an honoree, and for two years my band was the house band, which was really cool.
Q: So for example, who would Derek bring?
A: Do you know the R&B artist Aaliyah, the one who died in the plane crash? Her parents were honored at the Prestige Awards. Deborah Cox, she was like a really big time R&B singer in the 90s, she was here. One of the Boyz II Men guys came one time. Derek really had some connections.
Q: Tell me about your upbringing and family life growing up here.
A: My foundation as a young man in Poughkeepsie was growing up in the church. Being taught positive lessons, trying to be led in the right direction. Going to Sunday school and church on Sundays, Bible study, being involved in positive activities, not getting caught up in any negative street activities. I was encouraged to do the right things and I had mentors within my church, within the community. Men who would show and explain to me the right way. For me, those guys were like heroes, and were great examples. They lived in Poughkeepsie, they owned homes. If they didn’t have college degrees they were at their jobs for 15, 20, 25 years. Some would come to church from an overnight, exhausted but still showed up. Some were working doubles and triples, hard working men. They would always tell me that slow money is safe money. Never get caught up in the streets, with all of the nonsense and the fast money, and all that kind of stuff.
It’s interesting. Growing up in the inner city, growing up essentially poor, I did not realize I was poor. And that’s a story for a lot of young people growing up in these situations. I had everything. I had food. I had clothes that might not have been the best. I had a roof over my head. I was loved and supported from my close family and church family.
Q: How does that experience factor into your life now?
A: I recently accepted a position to be on the board of directors of The Art Effect, which is a nonprofit education organization. Then they signed me up for a local United Way committee, where we were reviewing different grant applications that would be considered for activities and events and initiatives within Dutchess County, mainly in the inner city of Poughkeepsie. And when I’m reading these grants and people are trying to explain why it’s important for these funds to be approved, I’m reading all these facts and details about Poughkeepsie. And one thing just hits me and I’m like, really? That 63% of the residents in the City of Poughkeepsie are poor or on the poverty line. Sixty-three percent is significant. And then maybe the next 18% after the 63% are really living paycheck to paycheck and struggling. And then you have others somewhere in the middle, and then you have another percentage at the top that’s comfortable and doing well. So I was part of that 63% growing up, and didn’t realize it. Now I can comfortably say that based on my hustle and grind, and just putting myself into a good situation, now I’m at the top of that percentage.
And then, when I read about Poughkeepsie High School students, it’s almost 80% that are on the poverty line. So you may draw negative conclusions about students or individuals within a city, but some people are just working/surviving with less. They don’t have all the resources and opportunities that others have. If they did, how would things be different? Kids in the high school are being targeted or labeled because of the situation they grew up in, and that’s not on them. But you know, they just need an opportunity, they need proper resources and support to be successful. And that’s why I’ve committed my life to giving back to my community and helping students here.
Q: So what was it like for you growing up? What did you notice around you?
A: It was a struggle in terms of surviving but I had good experiences. Most of my friends I would say were from church, and actually I recruited a lot of kids to come to church with me. There were a lot of different activities at my church, and we even went to other churches outside of Poughkeepsie. I remember going to Yonkers and New Rochelle and Newburgh for different activities. The cookouts and people coming together. People always came together to support each other. I saw a lot of love and support.
But when it got dark in my neighborhood I heard gunshots and saw fights. I did lose friends to gun violence and things like that. So I get it. It’s there, it happens. But most of the people that I grew up around, in a positive environment, were quality, loving, supportive people. I also knew people that were in the streets and had negative influences, but they were good people too. I just felt like they were on the wrong path. I don’t know what they’re doing now, and I’m sure some of them have got themselves in trouble. Some of the values and beliefs I learned in the church I tried to carry with me every day, whether that was in school or in the community. Sure, I did see violence and drugs, but that wasn’t every day or all of the time. It was sporadic. But I remember a lot of the positive things, and people don’t really highlight those things or honor those things.
Q: I’m curious about kids you knew growing up who were going down a different path than you. Do you recall ever talking about that with them? Did you learn about what was going on in their lives?
A: As I got older, I realized that some of the kids felt misunderstood and the streets showed them love. And honestly, I just saw that people were looking for love and inclusion. And if the streets were going to give you that love and support you were maybe looking for, then that’s the direction you went in. That’s especially if you are a young man.
What I’ve realized, is that mothers and women in general are amazing, raising children and playing multiple roles. But growing up and seeing some of these young men, or even young women, getting themselves in any kind of trouble, I saw the importance of a father. And unfortunately, there were a lot of single family homes and I’ve seen a lot of those young men go in the wrong direction. This a story that we’ve heard before. If you’ve got some guy in the streets showing you love, and supporting and always being there for you, and if you’re poor and he puts money in your pocket, you know, you’re going to trust them and go that way. But the kids that I saw who had stable strong fathers in their lives, they were the ones that for the most part were doing pretty well with themselves and making the right decisions. And if they made wrong decisions, Mom and Dad together would hold them accountable. As I get older, I see the importance of that.
And that’s why I make sure that I am the best father and male figure that I can be. I mentor a lot of young men. I focus on young men, but I see others mentoring young women as well. I just feel like having a mentor outside of the household makes a big difference, someone to help lead you in the right direction. Or if someone’s doing something that you’re interested in, definitely pick their brains and learn from them, and understand how things work.
Q: What is fatherhood like for you?
A: I have three kids. I have a 14-year-old, Dwayne Jr. I actually conceived him my last year at Marist. I graduated in May and in August he was born. He’s fifteen now, he’s a sophomore at Arlington high school. He goes to Arlington High School because his mom lives in the Town of Hopwell. That was a previous relationship. Now, I’m married, and my wife and I have an 12-year-old daughter, her name is Vanna. And we also adopted a young boy. We’ve had him since he was four months old. His name is TJ and he just turned seven. TJ’s bio mom has some mental health issues. He is now struggling with the same issues and he can be very difficult in that regard. But we are working with the school, a therapist and counselor to resolve it. My wife and I have both been in the mental health field over the years. She still works in mental health as a counselor/manger and we were able to take the right steps to get him the help he needed early on, so it didn’t continue to affect him. It was pretty significant at times. But he’s improving little at a time, small steps, small wins. And my older kids are doing pretty amazing, like 90 GPAs in school. My daughter is an accomplished soccer player. My son plays baseball and now he’s switched to football this fall. He’s a really good digital artist too. I’m proud of them. Right now I have each at a different level, a high schooler, one in the middle school, and one in elementary. It’s definitely keeping me busy.
Q: Are you still connected to the great mentors that you had in the church?
A: Yeah, a lot of them. Some passed away because they were older gentleman. But I’m still connected to a lot of them. And honestly, I’m just continuing their legacy of extending themselves to me. I mentor probably about nine or ten young men in my personal time, and being a program coordinator for the Marist Liberty Partnership Program I have over 150 middle school students I work with.
Q: Do you work out of Poughkeepsie Middle School?
A: Yeah. It’s awesome being able to work as an alum for Marist, but it’s also even more amazing to work directly in the school district and in the middle school that I went to, and being able to understand the students and support them. It’s not just an academic thing, it’s also an emotional-social thing. We do a lot of enrichment and college readiness type of stuff. Going on college tours, going to museums, and just different activities throughout the community and on the Marist campus that expand their minds. It’s the ultimate dream job for me, being passionate about giving back. And it’s really full circle for me, because from the seventh grade through high school I was a student in the same program that I work for now.
Q: What’s it like being on the other end of the experience? You were a child here, you went to Marist, now you’re raising a family here and working here. What do you observe, what do you notice that’s happening for the better and the worse?
A: I’ll say that the cycle is real. A lot of the same situations and issues and concerns and even successes from when I was a kid are coming up now, in the Poughkeepsie city school district and in the city overall. I really like our new superintendent. I believe in his vision. I really think he understands the community and the students, and the importance of trying to provide us resources.
I think the challenge people at the district have is to get the community to trust them, and to get the community to engage. Because for some reason, I’m not really sure why, people don’t take advantage of some of the opportunities and services that are provided. There’s not a lot. But the ones that are here, I don’t feel like enough people really take fully advantage of them. But the people that do are successful, that I’ve seen. Just from my adult standpoint, seeing how students think and feel, I get it. My approach when I work with these students, is that I always tell them I’m going to show you love and support, but I’m also going to hold you accountable. And they respect that.
Q: Why do you think the school district struggles with trust from the community?
A: Because of the negative experiences or situations over the years or decades, families feel like it’s all the same. But I really believe in this new superintendent and his staff. And I think he’s going to do a good job of taking our kids to the next level, and getting them the resources to be successful. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the district that I didn’t really agree with over the years.
Q: What do you notice about young people in Poughkeepsie? How would you compare what you observe about the kids you work with now, to what you remember from when you were their age?
A: It’s kind of tough to put this on the record. But I’ll say this. The kids are very innocent, very resilient, very talented, very common sense. Then you have maybe twenty percent that are dealing with some emotional and mental health issues that are not being addressed, from the trauma and the struggles that they’ve dealt with growing up. You don’t always know the stories.
Something interesting that I’ve been observing in the students, is that ones with emotional and mental health issues and concerns tend to be the leaders within the school, which is not a good thing. Because you have, I want to say naive, but innocent kids that are trying to find their way and can be easily manipulated into thinking or doing things that aren’t right.
I just feel like the kids that are having those emotional and mental struggles, I’m sure it’s difficult for any school district, but those underlying issues need to be addressed before those kids can really move forward and have some strong and stable success. Then you have kids at the top. So I would say 20% of the kids have those health concerns, and then I will say probably about 50% are trying to find their way and innocent, but can easily be turned. And then you have, whatever the other 30% that are just brilliant and trying to fit in. You know being smarter and brilliant for this generation isn’t being cool. I don’t know why.
Q: What’s it like being a homeowner? What are things like on your street?
A: We’ve had our house on Montgomery Street for over eight years. I enjoy where I am, especially for the students that pass by and see that I live right in their community, that I’m their neighbor. I have one of my students four houses down from me. During the pandemic I’ve been dropping off a lot of supplies to students’ houses for virtual activities, so I’ve gotten to know where they live. One of them passed by my house and said, “Mr. Douglas, what’re you doing here?” And I said, “It’s my house, I live here.” Then they said back to me, “Alright, cool.” That connection is there, and they respect you and they trust you a little bit better because you’re from their community. The Tubman apartments are near me, and I tell my students who live there that I used to live there too when I was a kid. I tell them whatever you want to do in life, just do it, it doesn’t matter where you’re from it’s where you’re going.
Q: What’s your relationship like with your neighbors?
A: To my right you have a bunch of tenants, and then to my left you have a few homeowners. It’s very diverse. There’s a former police officer who owns a house two or three houses down from me. He’s a white gentleman. Then you have tenants in two houses, they you have my house. Next door, you have a black gentleman who owns his home. Then you have a Mexican family that owns the house next door. Then you have another Jamaican family that owns the next home and then you have tenants in the next house over. So it’s very mixed, everyone for the most part gets along. Our neighbors next door, they were respectful enough to come by and say, “Listen, I thought you should know we’re having a party. You’re invited but just so you know we’re going to be playing music until 10:00.” When it snows like hell, there’s one guy with a snow blower who clears the whole block, and everybody gives him thirty bucks. It’s a community thing. we help shovel his area and he helps you out.
I’ve seen negativity on my block, though. There was a night I was watching the Knicks game, and the next thing I know I hear a “pop pop pop,” and there were people shooting at each other outside.
Q: How do you feel about the way the City of Poughkeepsie is portrayed, for example in the media, and the stories that are told about it?
A: There’s mostly negative points of view and negative stories. My feeling on that is that you’re putting everyone in a box based on the actions of a few bad apples. The inner city of Poughkeepsie is being labeled in a negative way, with crime, drugs, and violence. Then again, there’s a few people who unfortunately make some decisions that affect the entire area. There’s definitely more positives than negatives in the City of Poughkeepsie.
One thing I’ll say about people in the City of Poughkeepsie, I find them to be very resilient. And another word is very passionate.
Q: Passionate about anything in particular?
A: I’ll say that they’re very passionate about their basketball around here for some reason. They’re very passionate about the youth. I see a lot of people giving back, and trying to support the youth and change the cycle in a sense. Also, I see people passionate about the respect factor that comes with being a resident in this city. Especially in the black community, they don’t feel like they have a say or are included in decisions.
That’s the main thing when it comes to Poughkeepsie residents and the city government. There should be a respect factor. Like I know currently there are a lot of residents upset about certain developments being done. They feel like they have no say or no idea about it. Buildings being built out of nowhere. And they’re like, what the heck is this? The community should be connected and involved in certain things. We pay property taxes and school taxes. This is our home.