Richmond principal named ‘Disney Magic Maker’ for impact on community

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:35 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Disney World may be the happiest place on earth, but a Richmond principal makes sure some of that joy is felt in Richmond and has been named a “Disney Magic Maker” because of it.

It is no secret that James Gordon III loves his job as principal of Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School on the Southside of Richmond. His face lights up whenever he talks about the students, teachers, and staff.

“I love it. Oh, man, I love it. I love seeing the students and their smiles when they have those ‘aha moments,’ when they’re learning; when they’re getting it; when they make progress,” said Gordon, who was beaming with pride.

Gordon has had the role for about four years now, but his experience as an educator-turned-administrator stretches nearly two decades. His biggest inspiration is his mother, who never fulfilled her dream to be an educator. He feels proud to have turned their dream into reality at a school with nearly 600 students from all walks of life.

“Over three-fourths of our students come from economically deprived backgrounds, but you know what?” Gordon said. “We still have hope; we still have high expectations for them when they come into our building.”

Gordon has partnered with a local church for the last four years to make sure no family goes hungry. He has organized food drives and helped distribute boxes of turkeys, stuffing, and all the fixings for families in need on Thanksgiving. But don’t be mistaken, spreading some cheer isn’t just limited to holidays.

Every Friday, Principal Gordon surprises a couple of students with a “Triple-A Award,” a program he launched a few years ago to acknowledge students’ attitude, attendance, and achievement that week.

“I’ll say, ‘hey, listen, are you sitting down, mom?’ I really do this!” said Gordon during a quick role play. “And then I’m like ‘your daughter is a triple-A winner, so I need you to come at 3:30 this Friday to receive free gifts.’”

The gifts range from books to roller skates, but perhaps the greatest gift of all happened early this year when five students were awarded full scholarships to Virginia Union University. Gordon said some parents were overcome with emotion just as he was.

“The word ‘hope’ just kind of resonates with me from that experience,” Gordon said. “Given the demographics of our school community and our population, that’s one less worry or concern for a parent or a student.”

Gordon’s good deeds have not gone unnoticed. The father of three was recently selected to become one of 50 “Disney Magic Makers.” Disney launched a nationwide contest to honor people making an impact in their community. It is a part of the celebration of Disney World’s 50th anniversary.

“I said, ‘I’m going to Disney!’” That was like the first thing I said, and I felt honored,” said Gordon about his initial reaction. “More importantly, it was something that represents my school and what the teachers are doing, the students and the parents.”

Each winner won a free trip to Disney World to celebrate its 50th anniversary, as well as a one-year subscription to Disney Plus. Gordon took his family in October for memories that will last a lifetime.

While there, he appeared on Good Morning America, where he received another big surprise. Gordon was presented a $50,000 check to award another student a full ride to Virginia Union University.

“I almost cried because I was like ‘omg, this is more hope; this is more possibility,’ and so that’s something that’s really big to help inspire and lift our school community,” he said.

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