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Family, determination led Virginia educator to shatter multiple glass ceilings

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Posted at 5:25 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 17:27:35-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dr. John B. Gordon, III strives daily to live up to the example of excellence set by the two men in his family of educators that he is named after.

Those men are his father, a mathematician was one of the first African Americans admitted to UVA and his grandfather, who was a well-known pastor who led Bethlehem Baptist Church for 30 years in Church Hill.

"My father made clear to me once you reach a certain level its your job to open up the doors for others," Dr. Gordon said.

That has been a guiding force in his life. A life filled with some twists and turns.

Gordon, a once single dad who had his first child during his senior year at Hermitage High School set his sights on success.

He attended the University of Virginia, and then Virginia Tech for his doctorate. Fueled by a family of educators, teaching was a natural fit.

"Our parents let us know without education, you are going to have so many doors closed," Gordon explained.

Lessons like these, he shares with his own children, his students and in his book.

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"The Teacher's Lounge" details a 40-year walk through the field of education and how it has been influenced by race, politics and pop culture.

Gordon became the first African American to serve as principal in the school's 100-year history at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg.

He also became the first African American chairman of the Virginia High School League (VHSL).

He coached basketball at Armstrong High School and Meadowbrook, earning numerous championships.

Recognized for his impact on students, Gordon was pulled onto the administrative side.

He was the former chief of schools for Chesterfield County and is now the superintendent in Suffolk County.

Gordon was elected by Governor Ralph Northam to serve on the Education Commission of the States last year.

“A lot of kids don’t always see African American leaders and we want them to be able to be used to that. I really think that’s my purpose. To let them know that the path is there for them to become a leader” Gordon said.

His parents are his biggest heroes.

“They really stressed the importance of education. My mom is the former principal of Elizabeth Redd Elementary in RPS. They produced three doctors in the family. It was our job or goal to relay the importance of that to everybody else,” Gordon explained.

He said that he is proud of his two sisters.

Rhea is a science professor at East Carolina University and also wrote a book about STEM.

Her book is titled The Adventures of the STEM Brothers.

His sister Donna, a neurologist—was the first African American to graduate from the VCU MD-PhD program.

Gordon believes this makes his family a living example of black history.