Courage is a tool you pull from your toolbox when you venture into the unknown. Even though you may have courage to go through something, that doesn’t always mean you will bounce back from it. In my opinion, to have resiliency you need courage, but you also need passion, tenacity, and faith that you will make it out on the other side.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. David Heiber of Concentric Educational Solutions.

Dr. David Heiber is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Concentric Educational Solutions (CES). Under Dr. Heiber’s leadership, CES has been recognized for its innovative approach that places support of the whole student at the center of the educational experience. Dr. Heiber and his team have partnered with over 100 schools in 20 states.
Dr. Heiber’s personal story of grief, poverty, incarceration, and redemption motivates his work — his past provides a means for him to connect with students and challenge them to recognize their potential, honor their promise, and fulfill their purpose.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware as a mixed-race kid, raised by my maternal, white grandparents, whom I refer to as my “parents” because they raised me. As my parents, they were incredible, and we were lucky to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle. My father was hardworking, and because he was so committed to supporting our family, I was able to focus on becoming an all-state track star and was even offered several scholarships. However, during my senior year of high school, everything changed.

Right before Christmas, my school received a call notifying them that my father suffered a heart attack and died while shopping. After that devastating life event, my mother and I lost everything. We left our nice home and moved into an apartment. Six months later she was diagnosed with both a brain tumor and lung cancer. My whole life trajectory changed, and I was burdened with grief that I didn’t know how to handle

Consumed with grief and battling the effects of trauma, I started engaging in negative behaviors, such as stealing. Eventually, I was kicked out of several schools and got arrested for being a thief. Throughout this time, my mother was going through chemotherapy and though she did her best to come and visit me. It was a hard time for both of us. One Wednesday, I went down to visit her, and she was not waiting for me. When I got back to my pod, I was able to make a phone call where I learned that she had slipped into a coma and quickly passed away.

That crucible motivated me to do something better with my life. So, I went and got my GED and high school diploma while in prison, and then applied to Lincoln University. My judge, Judge Norman Berry, had never changed anyone’s sentence in his 15 years at the Delaware Superior Court, but when I was accepted into the university from prison, he decided to change my sentence. I was released on August 9, 1996, and arrived at Lincoln University nine days later.

At Lincoln University, I became a triple major with the goal of becoming an attorney. Unfortunately, due to my past and being arrested, that was not feasible. I was then accepted to both Temple Law School and Temple Grad School, where I chose to go to grad school to get my graduate degree. I tried to get a job locally so that I could go to Temple, but no one would hire me because of my criminal record. It was Baltimore City Schools that ended up hiring me thanks to Judge Berry’s support and him vouching for me. This opportunity with Baltimore City Schools led me into teaching.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I became an administrator very quickly, after just one year in a classroom. Though I had the intellectual capacity for this, I don’t think that I had the maturity. The most powerful lesson that I learned in this role was to be prepared for when an opportunity happens but be self-aware and learn when to say no if you aren’t ready.

This is something that has stuck with me for years, and 20 years later it is still the advice I would love to give to my younger self — be sure that you are ready for a role that you are asked to and agree to fill. There is a common belief in society that we want success quickly, but sometimes we as individuals are not prepared when that success comes to us. It is so important to know yourself, and sometimes saying no and giving yourself more time to grow will benefit you more in the long run.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Concentric Educational Solutions stands out because we do the work from the ground up. We meet our students, our clients, and our families in the community. What really sticks out most are our PSAs (Professional Student Advocates).

The quality of expertise and relatability of our staff truly drives our success. The majority of our staff are from and/or live in the communities that they serve. Not only do they relate to our students locationally, but they also have the tangible skillset to serve students once they build their relationships with them. This is unique and important because most of our staff have gone to college or another post-secondary form of education, so it proves to our students that they can be successful too.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful for Dr. Freeman Hrabowki, past president of UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County). After losing both of my parents, he has by far had the greatest impact on my life — both professionally and personally.

When I started in my role as a new administrator and I was given two books to read featuring details of Dr. Hrabowski who was coming to speak to us at Forest Park High School in 2003. I remember glancing through the book to get a better understanding of who he was, and was perplexed by him and his story. He was a juggernaut — he graduated high school at 14 and from college at 17. He received his doctorate at 21, became Provost and Vice President at Coppin University at 24, became Provost of UMBC at 30, and finally president of UMBC at 32.

I was young and dumb, so when he came out and introduced himself to us, I had asked how he could claim he was a revolutionary if he was at a predominantly white college. He said to me, “young man I am making MVPHDs of minority students who look like us — is that not revolutionary?”. After his speech concluded, he sought me out, and from that day forward he became my mentor.

We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I would define resiliency as never giving up even in the face of extreme adversity, and having the faith to know that you can withstand and bounce back from anything.

To me, the power of resiliency is knowing that no matter what comes your way, it will work out. You need passion, tenacity, and faith: passion to me is a mix of anger and love, tenacity is the grit to go through everything that will come your way, and the faith that it will all work out.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?

Courage is a tool you pull from your toolbox when you venture into the unknown. Even though you may have courage to go through something, that doesn’t always mean you will bounce back from it. In my opinion, to have resiliency you need courage, but you also need passion, tenacity, and faith that you will make it out on the other side.

A lot of what drives me through things is my anger for what our students and communities do not have, and the love for the work that I do.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

The first person that comes to mind when I think about resilience is Donald Hence. He is a retired educator that had the resiliency to start the largest African American owned charter and management company in the United States, located in Washington D.C. He truly leaped with faith, doing something that no other African American males would have been able to do in the late 90s.

Though Dr. Hrabowki has been my greatest mentor, Donald Hence is easily a close second.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Starting Concentric Educational Solutions (CES) is a prime example of me doing the impossible. I founded the company in 2010 with two co-founders. We were one of the first African American companies funded by NewSchools Venture Fund. I was still a fairly young educator in my 30s, and no one thought it could be done. After the first year of funding, we lost both our second and third years of funding, which led to both of my co-founders leaving to go back to get former jobs. I decided to stick around, working diligently every day to grow CES to what it is now, and prove to everyone who said it was impossible wrong.

Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Early in my career, I was offered a job as an administrator. Looking back, I can say with confidence that I was a very arrogant young administrator and was not ready for the role I needed to fill.I did not have the emotional intelligence or the self-awareness one needs to be an effective administrator. My lack of experience, actions and poor decision making heavily impacted my career at the time and I lost everything — both professionally and in my personal life. I left Baltimore to resurrect my career, which taught me the importance of humility and how fragile positions are — you should never have a sense of entitlement because no one owes you anything.

However, after this setback, the idea for Concentric Educational Solutions was born. I founded Concentric Educational Solutions with the mission of supporting students, families, and schools by identifying barriers that negatively impact education and provide resources and services to improve student outcomes.

I was able to continue to make my mark in education, but my role changed. Now, I help bridge some of the gaps in education by filling critical needs many school districts don’t have the capability to fill. My team and I are disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline by addressing chronic absenteeism, facilitating home visits, setting up mentoring programs and engaging students in tutoring. I am so proud of our work in the educational support space.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I think that being abandoned by my biological mother so early is what really set my journey of resilience in motion. Then during childhood, though we were solidly middle-class, we moved every two to three years. Relocating to new neighborhoods and getting adjusted to new schools every few years made it hard to build long standing relationships — but I made it a priority and still found a way to do it.

Looking back now, every part of my young life shaped me into who I am today. Losing my track scholarships, grieving the death of my parents, spending time in prison — one event after another has shaped me with the belief that I should never give up. No matter how bleak things may look, if you keep pushing, things have a way of working themselves out.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Embrace the setbacks.

Each setback is an opportunity to become more self-aware and find out who you are.

Find out what you did wrong.

It is so easy to point the finger when something goes wrong, it is harder to really understand your own role in things.

Take accountability.

This is something we often miss, but accountability really starts and ends with you.

Assess the next steps.

Make a plan of how to do things differently and follow through with it.

Believe that anything is possible.

Few things in life a truly permanent — if you set your mind to it, anything can happen.

Resiliency is muscle memory, and no matter how bad things may get I truly believe that they will work themselves out.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would lead a movement that inspires a collective will to come together to make a meaningful impact and change our communities.

Across the board, I do not think this happens. People and organizations compartmentalize, and we could achieve so much more if everyone would come together and work collaboratively. Community-based organizations need to leave the ego at the door and facilitate partnerships with other organizations and businesses to have the greatest impact.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have a private meal with President Obama. I find him truly inspirational because he filled a difficult role full of responsibilities while the whole world watched him with scrutiny because of his identification, heritage and religion. I think that he is such a fantastic person and I’d be honored to sit down to have a conversation with him. I would relish the opportunity to learn from him.

After President Obama, the next person that I would love to have a conversation with is my grandfather. He has taught me to work hard everyday and never give up. Trusting the process is what I have learned from him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.