“I think it is necessary for students to be exposed to a knowledge transfer system that is diverse in terms of those who are transferring the knowledge. And that diversity should look like the community.” – Dr. Alvin Thornton, provost, Howard University
Research reveals that nearly 50 percent of Black boys fail to complete high school; score lower on standardized tests; enrolled less in advanced placement classes; are suspended and expelled more than their White, Latino, and Asian classmates. According to the Urban League’s State of Black America, Black 4th graders perform at 87 percent of White boys in the same grade. By the 12th grade, Black male performance in 74 percent that of Whites. Many believe, as does this writer, that the presence (or lack thereof) of Black male teachers matters monumentally. According to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, “America has designed a female teaching style.” He cites that 83 percent of elementary school teachers are White females; 6 percent are African-American; and only 2 percent are Black and male. In my native city of Richmond, Va. I was the beneficiary of Black male teachers, counselors, principals, and school superintendants.
In fact, my father and uncle were educators. Yet, I am the exception rather than the rule relative to other African-American males in the United States of America. Today, the percentage of Black male teachers in Virginia is 2.6 percent, compared to 2 percent in South Carolina, and 9 percent in Maryland and Washington, DC, respectively. Such statistics are a vastly different to earlier points in history. Since the end of slavery in America, Black people have had a righteous reverence for education. In 1900, nearly all Black university graduates entered the teaching profession. The trend toward teaching continued until 1954 when the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling was issued that helped to racially desegregate many industries besides education.
However, for African-Americans, as the advent of professional opportunities increasing, the number of Black teachers decreased, especially African American males. Across the country initiatives have been launched to incentize Black males to teach. The Call Me Mister program is gaining national attention in the state of South Carolina between Clemson University and three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Benedict University, Claflin College, and Morris College. Across the nation, 15 other colleges and universities are participating in Call Me Mister. As President Obama has focused his policy attention to ensuring that the United States will by the most literate nation in the world there is a lot that Congress and state legislatures can do to increase the number of Black male teachers. Similar to the Call Me Mister program, lawmakers should recruit future teachers in high school, offer student loans at 1 percent, tie college scholarships to teacher education majors, and significantly increase teacher pay for secondary and college professors. American educators should look like America.
Gary L. Flowers is executive director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.