Da’juantay Wynter was 10 years old when he told others to start calling him DJ.
“I thought my given name was too ghetto, and that if I went by Da’juantay my whole life, I wouldn’t get anywhere,” he said.
That changed his senior year of high school though, after he got accepted to WashU.
“I created this dream of going to college as Da’juantay; it was only right that I live that dream out as Da’juantay, not DJ.,” he said. “So, I reclaimed my name and started being myself unapologetically regardless of the space I am in.”
Wynter came to WashU from Sacramento, Calif. He attended high school where 99 percent of the students were at or below the poverty level and 96 percent were students of color. Wynter said that he became serious about attending college his freshman year of high school and began to let go of bad habits that were a result of his environment.
“School wasn’t a priority in my household growing up,” he said. “My mom didn’t go to college, none of my siblings went to college, but I knew as a kid, college was my goal.”
Though he was drawn to the classroom, Wynter said his high school lacked many of the necessary resources to prepare students to be college ready. For instance, class was disrupted because of constant fire alarms signaling, teachers tended to move students through a grade regardless of mastering the content, and something as simple as bathroom access was only available at certain times of the day.
“I was in all AP and honors classes, but I was one of two Black men within that group of students,” he said. “Even then, the AP classes I took were not the same caliber as what was offered at the more affluent schools in my school district. It became very evident to me that my school was underfunded and under resourced.”
That’s when he decided to speak up. As a high school student, Wynter was integral in establishing the Equity Committee for the fifth largest school district in the state of California, which resulted in new athletic facilities at his school after they sat in disrepair for some 45 years.
“I became very involved at school, and I felt like I had to prove to myself and others that I deserved to be in those advanced classes and that our school and students were deserving of better facilities,” he said. “I fought hard against stereotypes that face Black men which required me to take on every opportunity that came my way.”
With that, two life-changing opportunities did come his way. The first was the Buck Foundation Scholarship, which he received as one of only five students in northern California his sophomore year of high school.
“Receiving that scholarship was life-changing,” he said. “I was given a mentor and he was my first Black male role model. He really showed me that college could be something for me and has impacted my life beyond measure.”
Then during his junior year, Wynter applied for and received the Hamilton Scholarship, an award bestowed to only 20 students across the United States.
Despite the scholarships and mentorship, Wynter nearly fell short of coming to WashU because, of all things, he was offered a job promotion as manager of a fast-food restaurant where he’d been working full-time to help support his family during the pandemic.
“I had to focus on what was most important and that was helping my family and making sure I was taking care of things financially,” he said. “The strains of poverty were still holding me down. I should have been happy, proud of myself to be promoted to manager, but that’s not where I wanted my life to go.”
Admittedly, the full-time job affected his academic performance, but ultimately Wynter worked enough overtime so he could quit that job, and during his senior year, focus on grades, applying to college, and directing his life how he saw fit.
With the help of his mentors, Wynter came to find WashU had the resources and support to guide him through transitioning to studying and living at a university.
“When I was looking at schools, I knew I needed a school that could walk me through the process of transitioning into an academic environment because I didn’t have that kind of support at home,” he said. “Getting into college is one thing, but getting through college is another thing, and I knew that. I knew I needed a school that could support me strategically and long-term and WashU has been doing that.”
Getting into college is one thing, but getting through college is another thing, and I knew that. I knew I needed a school that could support me strategically and long-term and WashU has been doing that.
Wynter said the Ervin Scholars Program has been integral in his success, and he’s been able to make friends with professors because of smaller class sizes, travel at least once a month since coming to WashU, and even lose 70 pounds because of access to a healthy lifestyle and food choices.
“It’s so crazy how WashU has completely and totally transformed my life,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be that way. The truth is my story is very rare and extraordinary. I am one very blessed and lucky person, but if I didn’t get the Buck and Hamilton scholarships I would not be where I am today. There are a lot more kids who need resources than those programs can support. They are a Band-Aid to the issue of inequality in our public school system.”
That’s why Wynter is passionate about fixing the educational system and intends to pursue a career in educational policy and advocacy, but only after he completes a law degree.
There are a lot more kids who need resources than those programs can support. They are a Band-Aid to the issue of inequality in our public school system.
“For me, my degree from WashU will be freeing; it will break generational chains,” he said. “But that’s also why I feel compelled to be a vessel for something bigger than just myself and hope to make impactful change within the systems, especially education, that disadvantage Black people.”