Thanks first must go to Historian Carter G. Woodson for creating Negro History Week in 1926 to celebrate the profound impacts of Blacks within the Diaspora and World. The significance in knowing that you cannot deny the impact of the ancestors that were deemed 3/5ths human (to codify the atrocities done), is something that cannot be ignored.
The pop images of the Black Male educators motivate the activation of voice like Melvin B. Tolson, the fighting the system Jim Ellis, to be academically fierce alongside the physical talent Ken Carter, the reaching other realms Joe Gardner, and the comPASSION of people Joe Louis Clark. In each of those films and references implies only a figment of the impact one may have as a Black Male educator. Let’s be honest, those are the movies even though there are real people we rarely interact beyond those stories. Let me grant a little more with a Paraphrase of a speech I heard on February 4th, 2021.
21 reasons For Black Men to be teachers by Principal Kafele:
Teaching allows one to enter the ranks of the most influential professions on the planet. Teaching provides Black men the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of people. Teaching provides the opportunity and access to children. Teaching provides an opportunity to be role models. Teaching provided the privilege to be the model of Black Manhood to Black Boys. Teaching allows Black Men to Become teachers of Black Manhood. Teaching allows Black men to be the presence in the lives of Black Boys they can relate and identify with. Teaching allows you to Teach and Demonstrate leadership from the lens of Black Men. Teaching allows you the opportunity to be a Mentor of students. Teaching allows you to engage in constructive and thought-provoking conversation. Teaching allows the opportunity to fill the Voids in the lives of Black children. Teaching provides the opportunity to be the alternative to the depiction and portrayal in the media. Teaching grants you the Bird’s eye view of current problems that exist to our children. Teaching allows you to monitor current problems and issues that exist then position yourself to rectify. Teaching allows you to make a difference. Teaching allows you to impact the community upon which your children reside. Teaching allows you to use the classroom as a vehicle to engrain Black History. Teaching allows you to bring your unique qualities, skills, and energy to non-Black students as well. Teaching allows Black Men the opportunity to advance into leadership and move into administration. You are needed and wanted, what you receive in return is more valuable than money.
If you have not realized the focus of this is Education and the importance of Black Men within it. I must say this: The phenomenal Black Women that have nurtured, raised, celebrated, and educated me do not go unnoticed. I love, appreciate, and see everything you have done, do, and will do. Dr. Tony Dickerson I still remember the warmth of the embrace you gave when I told you I was switching into education as well as the sponsorship to grant me the opportunity to work in education. It was your push for me to serve with Jumpstart KC my Freshman year of college that set my trajectory. I thank you and the many others that support me. To my mother, thank you for advocating the filling of the void for the male figure in my childhood. Now as you can see a Black Man is profoundly influenced by the Black Woman. However, I want to answer, “Why does representation matter and the importance of the Black Male educator.”
I wish I could say my journey to education started with the pop culture references made above or even the epiphany of discovery in college, but it was my own journey to be educated. Being a twin especially the twin of the other gender that many saw as finding schooling easy I went through constant comparison towards achievement. I was the student that they provided services for, the student they almost did not allow to start because of testing, the student rejected by the advanced school without even being asked what the issue really was. When I got glasses, I was able to read differently even though I despised it I could do it. I spent the elementary years fully struggling but capable and achieving. I did not like school and questioned its relevance. It was not until a few years ago that the light bulb hit, and I could even articulate this. I was privileged to have Mr. Woffard as my 5th Grade teacher as he lived around the corner and knew my family well. I apologize because I was unaware that you were 1 of 100 even though you had been a presence in the school. Mr. Woffard you were my first Black Male teacher, and you took the time to speak of my brilliance and potential even when I did not recognize it. Many will go their entire lives without having a Black Male educator.
I am lucky to have a plethora of Black Male educators, and each made a lifelong impression. The State of Missouri has about 1.2% Black Males and Nationally its 2% which has remained consistent for over three decades. Tragically we find that invaluable resources of Black Men in Education are scarce and many refuses to take the opportunity to teach or educate because of the premises and myth of pay. I must attest and agree the pay must increase but not solely to attract educators but ease the livelihood of those answering their calling.
Representation matters. It is not just a phrase, I am serious. I think back and note the many influences that have impacts. I saw myself in them and now I see them in me. They imprinted throughout their interactions. They kept me from missing my dad during his incarnation and not blaming myself for his addiction. They made sure I saw myself as an educated Black Male and not only do I have the ability I have responsibility to educate others.
When Brother Buie taught, I knew I had to meet expectations as he not only taught but ministered. He made math relevant. When Kpoakau taught he made you see history in the lens of an immigrant and questioned why those that were privileged to be born in this country did not take full advantage. When Coach Rivers cracked jokes and talked shit because you came to his spades table, he made you understand culture and connection to English. Having us write our own eulogy hits differently when your community makes it a reality. When Uncle Leon came back from his smoke breaks, he gave you the chance to teach Debate because he already taught you how to. When Major Brooks calls you on your shit and explains that your progress is limited to initiative you must take. When Sgt. Davis gives you that haircut in the back of the classroom and makes you presentable because you will be standing front and center representing the program, school, and community. When they tell you, your mind is too great to settle at joining the military and you must go to college. When Marvin Fight sees your skills on the court as he played for the KC Kings you shoot your shot differently. But when he shows you it is OK to be the only man in the room it does not make you less than, it makes your masculinity present itself differently. These men and many more tilled the recess of my mind and ingrained in me more than they would have known but I cannot forget Reginald Walker who gave me ultimatums to take risk but also helped me get that job that provided for more than just me. I remember the elation I had when I could walk the sanctuary of the church and see your teacher embracing the words from the preacher. Black Male educators have a profound impact defining and shaping Black Male Students.
My dad even with his flaws educated me to work hard and earn your income. My Grandfather taught me to be patient but also dedicated his time to coaching baseball at 3 & 2 where resides as the First Black Coach that was entered into the Hall of Fame. To my Uncle that challenged me to surpass his standards as he’s an O.D.. To my older brother who teaches me fatherhood even though ours was not as present as we would’ve liked. The shape that I am in; is of their influence.
If you’ve gotten this far then you know representation matters and that I am educated. I guess the stat that says by just having 1, Black Male Educator can make one 30%, more likely to obtain higher education. The gift of education means you have the knowledge and requirement to share it to the next whether it be the Educator or Relative. Let me set the challenge to you. Find some young person and tell them you are going to make a positive impact on their life, then do it. Warning I made it sound simple but to invest yourself into someone else, a team, or classroom will take every ounce of dedication within you. It is tough you’ll question your decisions, find yourself gasping for fellowship, and standing hard on bravery, courage, & convictions of your words.
I am a Black Male Educator. It is a part of my identity that I dare not refuse. It makes me constantly push myself for improvement. It makes me evolve to not just accept what is given to me but fight so the shoulders I stand upon can pave trails for the next to reach higher because I am not done ascending. See when you start teaching you get a new sense about you as you’re a part of the rearing of children that you love even though they are not biologically yours. You’ll tell them their dreams can come true and work to prove it. Even if that means your nights and weekends become theirs. You’ll dare to tell them they can do and be better with utmost sincerity even when they think it was their best. You’ll tell them of the world, history, and opportunities as you engage in that dialogue. You’ll deny the title of dad because that little kindergartener will give it to you but when you see them walk the stage, you’ll feel that title. You’ll shed tears and have heart break when the student you saw as having a reserve potential that could not be challenged the world over, succumbs to a fate and destiny that you warned them of but prayed it would not take them. You’ll remember their faces fondly as you see their children walk through your door. You’ll love as you make change happen. Your family will be endless. I speak of this from my experience but also shared dialogue with others.
I have spent 10+ years educating the youth of Kansas City specifically in the areas that I grew up. I made it my mantra my first-year teaching independently in my classroom, “By any means necessary (Malcom X).” I finished my degree and held space to show them I was studying. When we had Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) my books were open as well. When they complained about writing a paragraph, I would pull up essay’s I was working on for class. When they gave up on Math I showed them the system wanted them to give up but there are too many resources available. I gave lessons using stories about the time I stared down the barrel of a rifle pointed at me because they were looking for someone who shot a cop. I connected it to the flight pattern of the helicopter and formula for radius. I showed them that compound interest is double sided. I explained the life of the loan and had parents taking notes when discussing the impact of percentages. When they wanted to conduct scientific experiments, I put on overalls. When we talked about problem solving and the importance of measuring, I talked about installing the subwoofers in my car. When they were being put out of their other classrooms, they found refuge in mine even though they had to stand and complete their work. I did not excuse them even when I was away for surgery or professional developments, I was in the chat on Google Classroom. Those progress reports went out every Friday. Make-ups happen on Saturday and there was no breakfast, lunch, or transportation provided. If your parents could not make it to the school, I came knocking on the door. When they did not have food to eat, I had no problem shopping and delivering it to them. Teaching Black History was infused into everything. My greatest moments however are those taking hugging the student that would have normally been put to an alternative school, and knowing they genuinely cared about my safety when I would travel, but to see the raw emotion when it clicked that they have the ability to decide the reality of their situations and change what they need.
As a Black Male Educator you will tackle the dualities of survival, thrivival, and living by observing, mentoring, coaching, and just being. I would suggest you take the opportunities to grow, find community with other Black Males, increase your intellect along with degrees, and place self-care to the forefront (you will likely forget). I completed my Masters in K-12 Leadership, became a Surge Fellow, attend BLOC (Brotha’s Liberating Our Community) events, search & participate for affirming & challenging conversations, and purposely lead Americorps Members to do the same. I presently serve as an Impact Manager with City Year KC at Whittier Elementary but to be a leader & servant of my communities. Whether you find your way through service, study & obtain certification, coaching teams, or simply sitting to talk with a student having a hard time. You the Black Male Educator will encompass the possibility that it can be done, the motivation that it will be done, and the celebration of it being done.
The greatest reward will be when your students see you; stop; then say, “You remember me?” You’ll answer. Then converse as they tell you it was you that made the difference. You made them work hard. You spoke the truth and questioned theirs so they can see there’s multiple truths in perceptions. You arrived early, stayed late, & made time for them. You refused to let them go when they wanted to push you away. You hugged them and allowed their tears to be soaked into your shoulders. You supported their parents advocating for them. You have a story like theirs one of resistance, persistence, and resilience. You that dared to be there. For many of my students I was that for them, but for me they were endless possibilities, habitual discoveries, and images of myself and my twin. I close this by saying, “I love you, you are important, you can, you will, we need you, and above all you matter.” Thank You from a Black Male Educator.
This post is a untailored version of the blog “We Need More Black Educators” written for City Year by Jorge Fuller. Click here read that version.