Antonio McGaha, 39, is not your traditional student. While he’s enrolled at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, majors in social work, and was designated a scholar at USG Academic Recognition Day, McGaha meticulously balances being a full-time student, father and mentor. He hopes to impact the community by starting a nonprofit whose mission is mentoring young men of color.
How did you determine your career path?
I was initially pursuing a career as an educator. I have worked in special education for about 18 years as a paraprofessional. I felt that all my years of experience and my passion for empowering young minds would make it an easy transition. However, while finishing my associate’s degree, it has become very apparent that a degree in social work would be the most appropriate for me. I am very much interested in the development, empowerment and social welfare of many of our urban youth in the community and the school system. I believe that a degree in social work will allow me to positively affect change in these areas most consistently.
What drew you to Atlanta Metropolitan State College?
I work a full-time job and Atlanta Metropolitan’s class schedule was very convenient for me as a non-traditional student. It also happened to be very close to my job and it was very affordable.
What are your plans to gain experience in your field while still a student?
I am in the process of transferring to Georgia State University to begin their social work program in the fall. I intend to take full advantage of their field study and gain as much hands-on knowledge as possible when I get to that point in the curriculum.
What are your long-term career goals?
I am very much interested in working with urban youth within our communities and school systems. Social development and empowerment are two of the areas that I think could drastically be improved upon in each of the aforementioned environments. I plan to develop a non-profit organization specifically geared towards young Black males that emphasizes, teaches and imparts social skills that will allow them to be productive and successful. I am also a singer-songwriter and I plan to continue to write and perform socially conscious music that empowers and educates professionally on a much larger scale.
As a non-traditional student, how do you manage distractions?
Distractions are real and very much a part of everyday life for me. However, I understand that what I am doing is much bigger than just getting an education and degree. I have a 10-year-old son who is watching my every step. As much as I can, I want to be the very best example for him that I can be. As a Black male, I also know that I have a responsibility to my community. As I gain, grow and become mentally and spiritually stronger I know that I can pass these attributes and knowledge to my son and my surrounding community in hopes of making them both better. This is what keeps me focused.
How do you stay motivated?
My son is one of my main sources of motivation. Leaving a great legacy for him to pass along is of utmost importance to me. Even if I fail at accomplishing my goals, I have to make sure that every day he sees my consistent determination, tenacity and perseverance in all that I do.
If there is one thing in the world that you could change, what would it be?
If there is one thing that I could change in the world, I would increase the capacity to exhibit and express love authentically. I am really big on striving to love people where they are and for who they are and I believe that if we could truly embrace this concept the world would most certainly be a better place.
What have you learned from this experience called life?
I have learned that I should always be open and in constant pursuit of learning something new because this makes me well-rounded and contributes to my overall development as a person. I have learned that it is very important not be judgmental towards others or their circumstances because we often don’t understand the full picture of what we might see or hear. We should display grace as willingly as possible because we never know when we’ll need it shown towards us. I have learned to embrace and not to be resistant to change. We should consistently seek to be better than we were yesterday, last week, or last year. Love is real. It is one of most powerful and transformative forces in the universe. If we embrace it and act out of it, positive change happens. Lastly, I have learned to never give up. It is only through perseverance that I have learned some of my most valuable lessons, grown mentally and spiritually stronger, and accomplished a lot of my goals.