Donnell Hawkins Lives His Life as a New Father

Senior Donnell Hawkins seemed to have everything planned out. He has a full-ride scholarship to Missouri Western University for his work on the football field. He has a stable home life with two parents who are the founders and Co-Pastors of Life Changing Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Richmond Heights.

On Feb. 14, 2016, though, Donnell’s life was destined to change.

Just under nine months later, on Nov. 3, Donnell DeVanté Hawkins Jr. (DJ, as he’s known) was born.

“When I first found out,” Donnell said. “It was kind of rough. I was a junior getting ready to enter my senior year of playing football. It was kind of rough at first, but it’s a part of life. It happened, so I’ve got to man up to it, take on the consequences and be there for my child.”

Donnell and 20-year-old FHN graduate India Deshay, DJ’s mother, have been together for four years, and the two have remained close throughout their child’s first months of life.

“Our relationship has helped because DJ is equally loved by both of us,” India said. “He can’t see Donnell whenever he wants, but Donnell comes over a lot. He stays and plays however long he wants. Me and Donnell having our close relationship helps DJ get as much love as he can possibly get.”

DJ’s parents, with only his best interests in mind, have thought diligently about how he should be raised and about the positive effects that a complete family can have on a child.

“[Having both of his parents] will make him responsible,” India said. “We’ll teach him what to do and what not to do and guide him the right way. He’ll see that even though we had him young that we’re still happy together and working on ourselves. He can look up to us and see that he doesn’t have to have a child so young.”

His father agrees.

“With the help of football and the help of being a Christian, [being a father] is going to help me be a better person,” Donnell said, “not only to my son, but to other people. I’ll help my son learn how to treat others… I’m going to raise him up to be a church man. That’s been my whole life, so that’s what I’m going to pass down to him.”

Donnell learned to put such an emphasis on religion and, in turn, education from his father, Bishop Donald Hawkins Jr. who, with “his beautiful, anointed and powerful wife Pastor Laura Hawkins” (as she is described on their church’s website) founded Life Changing Christian Fellowship in February of 2004.

“My dad put his everything into me,” Donnell said. “Ever since I was little, he’s always been there, and I have to do the same since that’s how he raised me – to always be there, no matter what.”

It is by no accident that Donald has had this effect on his son.

“I’ve seen too many young men incarcerated that I want to draw the line in the sand and do the best that I can do to not allow my son to be just another statistic,” Donald said. “So, it was very important to me to let him know that I am there for him, to put him in sports, to put him in school in the right position to learn and to achieve anything.”

Donald has been all too close to the foils of young men. Being a former Deputy Sheriff for the city of St. Louis, he warns against those pitfalls, but he prefers to focus on positive reinforcement to keep his loved ones out of trouble.

“To always be in his son’s life,” was Donald’s most important advice to Donnell. “Regardless of what happens between Donnell and the mother of his child, he must always be there for his child; that is monumental for me. Never hand your responsibilities off to someone else. I believe that if more parents – more men – had more family values, and, still with a level of discipline, would instill them in the younger generation, then the jails would not be overcrowded. I believe that colleges would have higher attendance because our young men and young women would have more regard for their education. I’m a stickler for education, I’m a stickler for discipline, and I’m a stickler for love.”

Photographer Alex Rowe
From left to right: Donnell, Donnell Jr. and India smile for the camera

There appears to be no shortage of love for DJ, who lives with his mother and grandmother. Even from a distance, Donnell sees DJ as often as he can.

“To be there for my child isn’t anything about the money or anything like that,” Donnell said. “It’s about spending quality time with him, making sure that he knows your voice. When I see him, even when I’m just on the phone, he smiles. He’s always laughing; he’s always up-tempo. He’s the one who keeps me going.”

Donnell works at the Community Living Teen Club, helping students with special needs every day after school in Room 161 at FHN. He uses the money he earns at the Teen Club to support his young family, though Donnell and India get support from DJ’s grandparents on both sides if needed.

“I never want my children to be placed in a position where they would have to do illegal things to survive,” Donald said. “They should never feel that they have to rob someone or sell drugs to have money in their pocket. I shared this with Donnell. Secure your future – even financially – so that your child will never think that he has to look outside of you to guide or love him or to take care of him financially. Even though you have to be there for him physically and spiritually, you also have to be there for him financially.”

As Donnell said, though, finances are just part of the equation. As long as you have love, he and India believe, the rest will work its way out.

That love is evident even in their daily life, as Donnell willingly uses his own shirt to wipe DJ’s mouth after the six month old spits up on himself. The parents see this unconditional love a precursor to future success for their son.

“If you have a baby at a young age, your dreams don’t have to stop,” India said. “He’ll have a lot more opportunities because he can see that Donnell still stayed in school – I’m very supportive of that – and I want him to look up to his dad and see that he can still do stuff. His dad can be his hero.”

Donnell shares similar hopes of success, but he focuses these on his son, whom he is sure will succeed because of his upbringing. Not only this, but Donnell is always open to share his great love for his son.

“I want to carry on the Donnell legacy,” the father said. “If I don’t make it, I’m sure he’s going to make it big because we know all the steps to take [in parenting]. He’s going to be successful and carry on the Hawkins legacy… You’ve just got to be there for your family no matter what. You’ve always got to be strong to be a father. Every time I’m down, I always say, ‘Can I see a picture of my son?’ or to Facetime him, and everytime he sees me, his face just lights up with laughter and smiles. He always makes my day better.”