D.WILSON- MY LIFE MY STORY
Quiet and humble are adjectives that are used to describe Dennis Wilson Jr. Born to a single mom, Dennis faced his fair share of adversity growing up. The adversity created an internal drive to become successful. The journey for Dennis has had it’s ups and downs but the finish line is looking very good right now.
Born and raised on the east side of Buffalo, NY, Dennis grew up in a non-traditional household. We asked Dennis to just tell us about his life from the beginning:
My mom had me when she was 20 yrs old. She immersed herself in me, her only child. I grew up with tremendous love from both of my parents but them never being together in my life was difficult for me as I got older. My mom put her own life on hold, financially our life became a struggle. I remember when my mom had my little sister (I was 5-years- old at the time), we were living in the Town Gardens directly across from my Grandparents. My mom’s relationship didn’t work out and we had to move. During my kindergarten school year I lived with my grandparents. It seemed natural because I spent so much time at my grandparents house. By the time I got to high school I had moved over 10 times and switched schools nine times. When you’re young it seems normal but changing environments so young either makes you very aggressive or very passive. Since I spent the majority of my life with my mom I became very passive a trait of her personality.
My mom is the nicest person in the world and she gave me and my sister everything she could but financially she struggled. I remember my mom and dad arguing over child support. The conflicts eventually turned into a custody battle and me moving in with my dad, step-mom, and brother. This time period marked the worst of my life. I loved my dad, step-mom, and brother tremendously but leaving my mom is a pain that’s hard to describe. I knew the issues were over money and at this point I learned for me money didn’t make me happy. Eventually my mom and dad went back to court again and I moved back with my mom and sister. I was happy to go back to my mom but part of the proceedings included me telling the judge where I wanted to live. I felt like I was betraying my dad and that hurt. Being an 11-year old kid put in this situation was difficult. For the next few years me and my older brother only talked sparingly, later in our high school years our bond became inseparable.
Once all the dust settled between my parents, I was in the seventh grade. I attended school #74 and I developed a love for the game of basketball. Through all the school changes I remained an honor roll student. My parents definitely didn’t disagree on the importance of good grades. My guidance counselor tried to encourage me to attend Hutch Tech however I insisted on attending Turner Carroll High School. I knew they were a basketball powerhouse and I wanted to be apart of that. Between Turner Carroll and the Masten Boys Club I received Basketball 101 with some of the areas’ best players. Financial issues followed my mom so I had to transfer out of Turner at the end of my junior year. I transferred to Riverside High School. Coming from a catholic school I was educationally ahead of many of the students; that allowed me to take electives just to fill my schedule. One of those classes was English 5 (yearbook) and that class literally changed my life. I had a good time at Riverside high school I was glad that I had the chance to experience both catholic and public schools. Understanding the differences made me a better teacher.
Despite doing well academically, two internal issues held me back from being a better student and basketball player. A lack of confidence and a passive personality hindered me for years. I was smart and had talent but I didn’t believe I was supposed to win in life. I didn’t see my parents winning. Honestly the people I did see winning was the hustlers and those super talented in sports. I didn’t want to be a hustler and physically I wasn’t gifted. My mom would always sacrifice herself for others to win. I thought this was normal but it was just a product of a passive personality.
I was recruited to play Division III basketball but I didn’t want to go far from home because I wasn’t confident financially. So I quit basketball and attended Canisius College under the C.O.P.E (Canisius Opportunity Program for Education). I nearly quit the first week of school because I was so lost. I literally had a conversation with myself, I said I’m going to figure this out and graduate in four years. My major was communications and I learned that I liked the creative side more than journalism. During my freshman year my brother got me a job with him at Champs Sports. We had to have all the latest kicks (especially the Jordan’s) and I started to become more independent.
Two significant experiences happened during my sophomore year at Canisius that hugely affected my confidence and passiveness. First I remember being interested in a young lady at the school. We were at an event and I immediately had interested. Long story short, it was the first time I remember being interested in someone, pursuing that person, and having the feelings reciprocated. We became a popular couple on campus and my confidence was on a 1000. During this same period of time I tried out for the Canisius College Division I basketball team. I played very well and ended up being the last cut. I was devastated because I was better and out played the player they chose. Like most people that face adversity I said I’m done with ball and I’m never playing again. I lied to myself, I worked out tremendously for the next year and I eventually made the team my junior year. I remember the Coach saying your a walk-on and you’ll never play. The very next game we blew the team out and I got in the game. The crowd went nuts and for the next two years I had my own fan club for all the games.
As my college career was coming to and end, my relationship had ended I was back to square one emotionally. Basketball was over, I graduated, and I was working as a security officer making $6.75/hr. Me and my cousin had formed a rap group and we were working on music. I turned down an offer to work for one of the news stations because I hated journalism. I didn’t have a career plan or any direction. My history professor in undergrad (Dr. Banchich) was my favorite teacher, I took multiple history classes because I enjoyed his classes. When I decided to return to grad school at Canisius, the counselor gave me a choice Business or Education. I initially chose business because we were working on the music, graphics, videos, etc. Once I seen the cost of the books, I decided a teaching career wouldn’t be that bad, so I decided to teach history. I had a connection with the Director of Social Studies in the Board of Education, I reached out to him and he advised me to substitute teach and once I received my teaching certification, he would get me in.
After several years of substitute teaching and failing several certifications exams, I met all the requirements and obtained my teacher certification. I began teaching seventh and eighth grade history at school #79. Being a male African American teacher was a challenge and I could write a book about many of the things I’ve been through. I have personally taught all history levels grades 7-12. I held positions as a Technology Instructional Specialist, Instructional Technology Coach, and presently a Print/Graphic Design Teacher at McKinley High School. To this day it amazes me that I grew up in the urban community, attended public school, been a successful educator for 20 years and not one high level person has ever asked me what’s best for our African American male students. I hope people let that sink in.
In November of 1999 me and my cousin released our rap album. Both of us were communication majors in college. The experience was great. We eventually went on to promote high school events and win several awards over a five year period. For me personally beginning a career as a teacher created a conflict with the trend of hip hop music. In the classroom I would see how the music influenced the children and it started to turn me away from wanting to participate. I personally love hip hop music but I hate that it glorifies aspects of life that destroy our people.
In 2001, me and my partner started a graphic design company King of Spades Graphics. The roots of the graphic design career came from the English 5 class I took at Riverside High School. I taught myself Adobe Photoshop and over the years I had the pleasure of creating designs for businesses, universities, promoters and people from all over the world. The graphic design company forced me to become more social and more confident in myself. When promoting your business you have to be confident and sometimes aggressive. It took years but I really became confident in my abilities and my gifts. The confidence led to a new aggression I was able to handle on my own terms. Success is my aggression, when you’re busy working and producing you have no time for anything else.
As I became more outgoing I had a desire to create an upscale atmosphere for nightlife and traveling. Using the skills and network from graphics, music, and basketball, I started a promotions website called mrdwilson.com. In the mid 2000’s I would post events that were going on in the city weekly, I would also post pictures from the various nightlife events. Eventually I would begin to host my own events and trips. In 2009 I started regularly hosting nightlife events and over the past 10 years the events have grown into major productions. My two signature events, Miami Nights All White Affair and the Presidential All Black Affair host thousands of guest annually and continues to grow.
In 2011, Curtis McCutcheon and myself opened up the Oakk Room Restaurant. Both of us were graduates of Canisius College as well as event promoters. The Oakk Room has become an urban hub for middle class professionals and millennials in Buffalo, NY. For me I’ve been fortunate to use every skill I had within all my various careers.
In 2016 marriage completed my life because it’s so perfect. Switching from me to we in my priorities keeps everything focused. When I was younger my boy Willie “Beefer” Harden told me to be patient, work hard and you will have everything. Forty plus years later I have a beautiful, intelligent wife, outstanding daughter, amazing step-son, great businesses, great career, awesome siblings, and loving relationship with both my parents. Honestly
this is what I expected. That’s why when you ask me how am I doing I always reply “NO COMPLAINTS.”