This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Oakland, California, middle school teacher Donovan Taylor Hall shared with Hoda Kotb that there was a time in his life years ago when he contemplated suicide while bottling up his emotions inside.
Hoda got emotional on TODAY Monday when she thought of what Hall's students at Impact Academy would have lost if the beloved teacher had taken his life while he was in college.
"I feel weirdly safe that you're on the planet now. I feel like one of those kids in your class is going to change the world just like you are, and I'm so glad you didn't do it that day," Hoda said while both of them got emotional. "And we just wanted to say thank you too for all the amazing things that you're doing with kids."
Hall is a popular teacher at the charter school in Oakland that serves underprivileged students of color, teaching seventh-graders skills like coping with stress and anxiety, showing gratitude and how to love themselves.
He has posted clips from his class on TikTok to spread his message to others, with some of the videos going viral with more than a million views.
"I am trying to help kids feel and do better than they've done in the past," he said on TODAY. "I'm trying to help kids build positive relationships with themselves, and trying to stop this, this cycle of disconnect that happens at this age."
The teacher affectionately known as "Mister Donovan" makes sure to tell his students that he loves them every day.
"I do. I love them. And I also tell them that I like who they are, because that's something that they don't hear a lot as well," he said.
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His curriculum comes from his own struggles in school, where he kept his emotions to himself while growing up Black and secretly gay, which led to thoughts of suicide.
"I remember just being so unsure of myself and being so sad, and my dad passed away when I was a kid," he said. "And my mom worked so hard, and she was a teacher on her own. And so I hid it from her because I didn't know how to ask for help.
"By the time I got to college I was suicidal. I didn't want to be alive because I thought if I did the right things eventually I would feel better, and it felt like it just wasn't working. And wishing that an adult would come out — I'm gonna start crying already — wishing that an adult would come to me and say, like, 'I see you, and I'm here for you.' And so for me to be able to do that for kids, just hearing them share these things that people I think kind of undervalue."
That has been a driving force behind Hall teaching his students to embrace a positive view of themselves without dwelling on their flaws.
"I've been keeping a lot inside, and in Mr. Donovan's class, I get to like express myself and not have a fear of being judged," a student named Jada said on TODAY.
A 12-year-old student named Osmer says he now gets straight A's thanks to Hall's encouragement after previously struggling in nearly all his classes.
"He makes me feel like I can do it, that I can accomplish this, my goal of getting good grades," Osmer said.
"Helping kids build a positive self image leads directly into how they show up in the classroom," Hall said. "When they feel confident in who they are, and they love who they are, they're not gonna be afraid to make mistakes."
Hall now wants to move beyond teaching to spread his message to a wider audience. He is setting up a home studio to make inspirational videos for kids with a goal of becoming a Mister Rogers for the 21st century.
His aspirations received a boost on Monday when TODAY surprised him with a new HP laptop loaded with editing software from Adobe.
Hall hopes that the uplifting message that has benefited his students in Oakland can soon be spread around the world.
"I wouldn't be here without kids," he said. "And I feel like I wanna do this work on a bigger scale."