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Representation Matters: Black male educators model a bright future

Michigan group doing the work to recruit, retain Black male educators
DR. MCGHEE WITH STUDENTS.jpeg
Posted at 6:26 AM, May 24, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS — Inside a classroom is the place where many begin to dream up and work toward their future. As our Path Forward initiative begins, we looked at the spaces— and people— integral to helping so many young people begin their journeys; finding leadership in the school and the classroom matters.

Only 1.3% of educators are Black men. That's a nationwide number from the National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2023. Recruiting more Black men into education and keeping them in those jobs is what the Black Male Educators Alliance is working to do in Michigan.

William Childers is the only Black man teaching science at a Grand Rapids Public School.

"I didn't really notice until people started to tell me, 'You know you're uncommon? You know this is just like a thing that most people do?'" said William Childers, 7th- and 8th-grade science, at Riverside Middle School.

Childers says his representation means a lot to the parents, and more importantly to the students in his classroom who not only see a Black man in education, but a Black man working in STEM.

Will Childers Teaching
Will Childers works a science equation with a 8th grade student at Riverside Middle School.

"They just don't see too many things, and that's part of the cultural and the equity part. A lot of them just see basketball and football players," said Childers. "Does it make me do my job differently? No. Because I'm just trying to affect the students that I have."

Inside the hallway of a high school a few miles away, the principal at Innovation Central High School, Dr. Jason McGhee starts most days with a pep talk.

"I love you, make it a great day and I'll see you guys at lunch or in the hallway or something," Dr. McGhee says to students.

"We have about 52% of our student population are Spanish speaking, Latino, Latina. About 38% are Black. So, for those high numbers, especially those Black boys and girls, I'm their principal," said Dr. McGhee.

DR. MCGHEE GRADUATION.jpeg
Dr. Jason McGhee celebrates graduation with students at Innovation Central High School.

Dr. McGhee's representation matters to these students and parents too, because— inside classrooms— representation does look different.

"I don't have any Black male educators in the building, but I do have Black male support staff," said Dr. McGhee. "My assistant principal is a Black man. I have youth advocates and a college advisor who is a Black man. So, when we look at other schools in our supportive roles; absolutely. In the classroom; not so much."

Dr. Curtis Lewis founded the Black Male Educators Alliance with a mission to show Black men education is a viable career.

"Schools can be traumatizing to certain groups of people. So, why would I go back to the place that I've been traumatized? Or haven't been very pleasant to me?," said Dr. Lewis. "We have to change the way in how we do things, and particularly certain populations of students. If we want to increase and diversify the profession."

We exist to transform the school experience for Black and Brown children by creating culturally sustaining policies, structured programming, and teacher pedagogy that develops students into change agents for their community.
Black Male Educators Alliance

The BMEA holds professional development sessions and shares resources so current and future educators continue to see themselves in these important roles.

"We're trying to create this pipeline, we also try to keep those who are already in the profession there as well," Dr. Lewis continued. "So, we have community events, we have different things, we have a cohort of folks that we support along the way, so they feel like they have a support group."

Black Male Educators Mentorship program
The Black Male Educators Alliance provides mentorship programs for young men to get connected to edcuation.

Pressures to show students the best possible future impact all educators; for Black male educators, maybe a little more than others. In the face of dwindling teacher numbers, the amount of students looking to them for representation only grows.

Through those conferences, Zoom calls, professional development seminars, and outings with the BMEA, Dr. McGhee says he feels less burnt out.

BMEA Principal Wellness Group
The Principal Wellness Fellowship allows black male principals to get to know each other, feel supported, and energized.

"Moving forward, we have to continue what we're doing, and having this conversation," explains Dr. McGhee. "What Dr. Lewis is doing in Detroit— We need to keep those organizations pumped, we need to keep those organizations like the Black Male Educators Alliance funded, we need to keep those organizations going."

The Black Male Educators Alliance is at a 100% retention rate, keeping educators who might have left their jobs working inside classrooms.

If you would like to connect with the Black Male Educators Alliance,click here.

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Check out our list of community resources available to help in West Michigan.

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