By Natasha S. Alford, theGrio
In a country where a growing share of public schools have minority children, fewer teachers look like them than ever before. For black men, the numbers are more startling: less than 2 percent of teachers in the U.S. are black men.
But black men do teach. And they do it well. A blog called Black. Man. Teach is showcasing the faces and stories of the men who defy statistics to enter the classroom. Jabali Sawicki’s powerful photographs of black male educators explaining why they teach, reflect strength and sheer determination.
Sawicki, a former founding principal at an all-boys school in Brooklyn, saw the need for his students to have black male role models. “As we continue to think about how to better serve our children, black male teachers, although dramatically under-represented in the profession, will continue to play an integral role,” says Sawicki.
He hopes people see that teaching is game-changing work. “My goal through this project is to help provide a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates current black male teachers, with the hope that these powerful narratives will help us celebrate and support those currently doing the work, and lead to more individuals joining this movement.”
—Chicago twins earn $1.6M in scholarships and get into nearly 60 colleges
In honor of National Teacher Appreciation week, theGrio salutes 7 black male educators who inspire black excellence. Share your thanks to educators who are making a difference in your community using #GrioSalute and check out more stories at Black. Man. Teach.
Ervin M. Thomas, High School Teacher
Name: Ervin M. Thomas
Grade: High School
Current City: Jersey City
College: Ramapo College and University of West Alabama
How long teaching? 14 years
Why I Teach…I chose to become an educator because I knew there was a need for a black man who understood the population he serviced… I wanted to be the sympathetic educator that I wish I had throughout my education…. I believed that if I was able to help those students struggling to cope with their socio-emotional issues than they would be better equipped to focus on academics and nothing would derail them from setting and reaching their future goals. Last, I knew it was my calling and my ultimate purpose in life — To Serve, Inspire and Uplift young people of color.
Name: Eric Mosley
Grade: 5th Grade
Current City: Brooklyn, NY
College: Morehouse College & RELAY Graduate School of Education
How long teaching? 3 years
Why I Teach… I was at dinner in Brooklyn when I heard the George Zimmerman verdict, and for the first time in my life, I literally felt unsafe, invisible, and worthless as a black man in America. At the time, my cousin and I were apartment hunting and were having dinner with one of my best friends who used to work at the same boys school in which I currently teach. We cried. We were silent. We commiserated over Trayvon’s life, and the lives of other black and brown boys and girls who don’t have an Al Sharpton to ignite or mobilize the country to rally for their justice. I teach for my ancestors who died for opportunity — the names and faces of whom I will never be able to thank or repay. I teach for my two ten year-old brothers, Jared and Nacir. I teach for the boys who will soon become men. I teach because it’s personal.
Name: Sterling Grimes
Grade: High School
Current City: Philadelphia, PA
College: University of Maryland College Park (B.A.) and University of Pennsylvania (M.S.Ed.)
How long teaching? 6 years
Why I Teach… When my students learn about my background, they are often surprised that I have seen many of the experiences that they endure each day. I constantly remind them that world travel and an Ivy league degree only serve to amplify my blackness, never to cover it. I am one of many examples of what it is to be a black man. I teach to show my students one model of success and one way to navigate the world. I know I don’t possess all of the answers, but I teach to provide the ones I do have.
Name: Michael Burks Jr.
Grade: 4th Grade
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
College: Harvard University
How long teaching? 5 years
Why I Teach…We have discussed current events from Michael Brown and Black Lives Matter to The University of Oklahoma and SAE, opening the worldview of these young men past the harsh realities they navigate daily in The Fillmore, The Western Addition, Richmond, and Bayview-Hunter’s Point. I have shared numerous personal anecdotes of the trials and tribulations of navigating one of the most historic universities in the world as a man of color.
The Brotherhood has taught me that we are not in the business of being perfect. We, as teachers and students, work to improve daily. As we say in our Pledge: “We are putting our failures behind us. We will make today our best day because today starts the rest of our lives!”
Name: Bryan Butcher Jr.
Grade: 5th Grade
Current City: Portland, OR
College: Morehouse College & Relay Graduate School of Education
How long teaching? 4 years
Why I Teach… Every day I walk into my classroom with the mission to teach my children to love learning. Love geometry, because those same shapes and angles you explore will be the base of the historical monument you build one day. Love reading with expression because the voice you use may be the voice you channel during your Juilliard acting auditions. Love social studies because those historical figures may possess the values you use to change the world.
I’ve found that when you love what you’re doing, you don’t mind working a little bit harder. I hope for my students that I, Mr. Butcher, the black man in front of them each day, am able to not only provide them with the academic skills to be successful but also liberate their minds to become transformational citizens in the world.
Name: Najee K. Carter
Grade: 2nd Grade
Current City: Newark, NJ
College: Hampton University
How long teaching? 4 years
Why I Teach… I didn’t see many faces that looked like mine or the boys and girls I knew growing up in Newark, NJ. The faces I did see, whose hue matched mine, wore an uncanny sorrow. It was from those glances that I realized Black and Brown boys and girls deserve a greater dream….
…For me, there is a supreme power in teaching and providing children with something they have been so strategically deprived of. I marvel at the idea of pushing critical thought in the classroom and beam at the sight of my kids attacking rigorous mathematical concepts with such sophistication. I am filled with joy as they bring words to life through their writing. This for me is the revolution that will not be televised.
Name: Alonzo S. Fulton
Grade: Kindergarten through 8th Grade
Current City: Philadelphia
College: Lincoln University of PA & Cheyney University of PA
How long teaching? 14 years
Why I Teach… I became a teacher because I believe in the transformative power of one person, one voice, and one mission. My mission is to change current student’s attitudes about learning to transform their future. Why? Because inner city children need someone to plant, someone to water, and someone to champion the genius that lies within.
That someone is me. So, teaching is NEVER just a job- it is my passion! I inspire my students to break down barriers, burst through glass ceilings, and challenge the “status quo” societal norms they were born into. Most importantly, they understand that the world will try to take their dignity, their possessions, and even their confidence. Yet, no one can take their knowledge!
Jabali Sawicki is the founder of Black. Man. Teach., which chronicles the stories of black male educators across the United States. A former black male educator himself, Sawicki explains what inspired his project and the movement he hopes to build for black men in education.
“12 years ago, I founded Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford Stuyvesant, and all-boys K-8 charter school in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, serving 98% African American boys. When I left the school with our first graduating class, based on my experiences working with our scholars and our amazing teachers, I became deeply passionate about another key issue clearly integral to the overall success of our young brothers and sisters: increasing the number of black male teachers in our schools and classrooms.
As we continue to think about how to better serve our children, black male teachers, although dramatically under-represented in the profession, will continue to play an integral role.
My goal through this project is to help provide a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates current black male teachers, with the hope that these powerful narratives will help us celebrate and support those currently doing the work, and lead to more individuals joining this movement.