Whatever it takes.
That’s the daily mantra for Suzette and Daniel Dean, a Florida husband-and-wife team who founded a small private religious school in the heart of a struggling black community.
It’s a way of life that started almost from the moment the native Jamaicans met at their Miami church. Friends told Suzette that Daniel would only marry her if she was a teacher, so Suzette traded her nursing career for one in special education.
Soon after she graduated from the University of South Florida, Suzette’s tutoring gig went from two students to eight. The Deans converted a one-bedroom apartment above their garage in east Tampa and in 1999, Bible Truth Ministries Academy was born.
Word of mouth brought more students, so the couple took a second mortgage and Daniel, a pastor and businessman nicknamed “Preach,” took a second job building low-income housing. The extra dollars went toward renovating a former crack house into a bigger school.
Eventually, the Deans convinced a bank to loan them thousands of dollars to buy land for an even bigger school. Suzette, pregnant with their fifth child, got her contractor’s license so she could pull permits for her husband, who would leave his day job and work until midnight building the new school.
“I was a man on a mission,’’ he said. “Failure was not an option.’’
Today, the modest Bible Truth school sits behind the church the Deans built and where Daniel shares the word of God. Next door is a new 3,600-square-foot multipurpose building that houses the school’s lunchroom, library, and science and music labs.
It’s all part of a vision to serve the community that includes a center called H.O.P.E. There, residents can hunt for jobs, work on resumes, get their G.E.D. or learn to cook and sew.
But the school, with 86 students in VPK to high school, “is the machine of everything,’’ Daniel said. It’s where children, many of whom have been told they can’t learn, realize they can.
“Good education, holistic education, is part of a community’s development,’’ he said. “Not a cookie-cutter education. There must be an obligation on the teacher’s side and the child’s side.’’