From 2005 to 2009, Wesley Tate was a leader at Pope John Paul II High School. Now in 2020, Tate still leads the Knights, though in a different way.
The former All State running back in football and state champion track athlete is now a member of the JPII Board of Trustees, the board’s only African-American member.
“I got a call a couple years ago from (Headmaster Michael Deely),” Tate said, “They wanted some younger alumni representation on the board. After learning what it was about, I happily accepted.”
The diocesan Catholic Schools Office is on a mission to build strong minds in all its students, and there are few better examples of JPII nurturing strong minds than alum Wesley Tate. Along with playing three varsity sports for all four years of high school, he also sang in the choir and competed in the Science Olympiad.
“If I had to put it into words, overall I would say I had a very balanced high school experience,” he said. “There was the spiritual aspect, the academics, the athletics, and meeting life-long friends. It was a high-level experience.”
JPII’s teachers were the school’s greatest difference makers in cultivating strong minds, Tate said.
“I attribute a lot of success in the classroom to my teachers. They were very helpful, but they didn’t cut me any slack,” he said, “Everyone was held to the same standard, and they were able to see the big picture for you.”
The academics Tate received in Catholic schools helped prepare him for Vanderbilt University, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in Human Organizational Development and played football for four years.
Tate found himself challenged in other areas outside of the classroom at JPII, as well. As an African-American, non-Catholic student, he found himself in the minority of JPII’s student body demographics. Despite the majority white student body, however, Tate views JPII’s diversity as more than a black and white subject.
“JPII is very diverse in terms of culture. I went to school with white students, black students, and foreign exchange students. I definitely learned a lot about myself and dealing with other people,” he said. “As a black person, it really prepared me for life, to a degree.”
At JPII, 7 percent of the students are African-American, 6 percent are Asian, and 3 percent are Hispanic.
As for being a Christian non-Catholic student, Tate’s time in middle school at St. Joseph School prepared him for the Catholic school experience.
“It prepared me for what to expect,” he said. “A lot of the principles and foundations are the same, but JPII definitely opened my eyes. I got to understand a lot of things about the Bible and theology.”
After thinking about his past high school experiences, Tate now looks toward the future in his new role on the board. He sees value in bringing more diversity to the school, but he believes JPII is on the right track if the school sticks to the plan it has in place.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said, “JPII, and any school, can always do better at being where diversity is. You have to be where different people are, and that starts early.
“The reason I went to school there is because they were there,” he said. “I could build relationships, start putting a name to a face.”
The more visibility and access JPII and other Catholic schools have in the surrounding communities, the more opportunities they can generate to develop strong minds and leaders from varying cultural backgrounds, he said.Ω