Vatangoe “Tangoe” Donzo comes from a family of African immigrants who fled war-torn Liberia and eventually settled in a rough neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Tangoe’s parents, a cab driver and home nursing aide, did all they could to protect their son from going down the wrong path.
Tangoe would take the right path for his higher education at Williamson. On campus, this Paint Shop senior has benefited from a supportive environment and role models who encouraged him.
Growing up, Tangoe repeatedly changed schools. When the local public school wasn’t a good fit, he moved to a Catholic school. Then, when scholarship money ran out, he enrolled in another district’s charter middle school. Being in a safer school district, his parents hoped, would help protect him from being a target of racial hostility due to his African heritage.
His last year of middle school, his parents separated and his mother became ill. Tangoe and his younger sister were sent to Minnesota to stay with family. At a high school there, Tangoe got his first chance to play organized basketball, exhibiting a talent and passion for the sport. Unfortunately, a broken wrist sidelined him. He wouldn’t play again until he returned to Philadelphia his junior and senior year, but another wrist injury followed.
Tangoe’s scoring record was impressive and he led his team to a comeback victory. Nevertheless, the chances of him getting a college scholarship to play were slim.
“Even if a college wanted to offer me something,” he says, “they couldn’t even talk to me because of my grades, which took a drastic toll when I got injured.”
Meanwhile, Tangoe’s coach, a Williamson alumnus, called Williamson’s head basketball coach Bill Michaels about Tangoe. He described Tangoe’s personal challenges and economic hardship. They agreed that Williamson would be good for him.
His high school coach drove Tangoe to Williamson on the very last day of applicant interviews and testing. Hearing about the different trades, Tangoe was attracted to the Paint Shop. He loved art, having designed high school yearbook covers and created a logo for his basketball team. Of course, Tangoe was looking forward to playing college basketball. He also was relieved that at Williamson he could get some distance from the pressures at home.
“Adjusting to Williamson was difficult and different,” Tangoe says. He relied on his mentor Tom Moffitt, Vice President of Student Affairs, to help him. Mr. Moffitt works with students over the course of their three years at Williamson and oversees the Student Conduct Code.
Tangoe got his share of disciplinary points for lateness and other infractions. “When I got points for being late and not calling the school like I should have, Mr. Moffitt said, ‘If you had a job and you came late and you didn’t tell them, you would get fired on the spot.’ That helped me.”
“Tangoe had a breakthrough when he became proactive about communicating,” Mr. Moffitt says. “Instead of offering excuses after the fact, Tangoe started notifying me ahead of time when there was a problem.”
Like many Williamson students, Tangoe arrived with limited resources and lack of a support structure. “I never had a question about whether Tangoe had the capacity to make the adjustments he needed to,” Mr. Moffitt says. “He’s always been willing to learn and to adapt.”
Tangoe has worked hard to balance basketball, his schoolwork and his obligations to his family who continue to face financial difficulties and housing challenges.
He has connected personally with his coaches, especially Assistant Coach Kevin Brown, a 2003 Graduate of Paint Shop. Both coach and player attended the same high school and lived in low- income, underserved neighborhoods.
“Kevin went through the program,” says Coach Michaels, “played basketball here, and became a successful father, husband, and leader in his field. He came to see himself in other capacities aside from basketball.”
That is what the coaching staff has been focusing on with Tangoe, as they help him develop the character of a Williamson Man.
Coach Michaels also says that being put on academic probation his freshman year was an “aha” moment for Tangoe. While he couldn’t participate in the games, he still practiced and did his part to help the rest of the team.
“He went from being selfish to selfless,” says Coach Michaels.
At the start of his junior year Tangoe recalls, “we had a lot of new guys. I felt like we had to get the freshmen comfortable. We had to learn how to help everyone, instead of thinking just about ourselves.”
Comforting another player after a loss, Tangoe told him, “Yo, you had a bad night, that’s cool.” At the next practice he would give him specific, targeted exercises to help him out.
This past fall, Tangoe has been focusing on his grades, mentoring the underclassmen, serving as foreman in the Paint shop, as all seniors do, and considering his future.
He hopes to follow his cousins who, after going to college on basketball scholarships, are now overseas playing professionally; yet he knows he has the trade skills he needs to get a good job that will enable him to provide for himself and his family.
“Tangoe makes no bones about his personal shortcomings,” Moffitt, says, “but he’s humble and self-aware enough to receive help and seek guidance on how to address them.”
“Tangoe is a student who came in one way and will leave another,” says Coach Michaels. “One of the biggest transformations we’ve witnessed.”
Your support makes it possible for students like Tangoe to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.