Tell us why you are advocating to get more African- American males into classrooms, recruiting them to become teachers.
As a country, we have a huge challenge to make sure many more of our students and many more of our young black boys are successful. And our graduation rates have to go up dramatically. Our dropout rates have to go down.
To get there, I'm convinced we have to have more men of color teaching, being role models, being mentors, and doing it not just at the high school, but at the elementary grades. And when I ran the Chicago Public Schools, you know, I had 600 schools, visited almost every single one of them. And I would go to entire elementary schools and not see one black man.
What do you get from that experience, you believe, from having the black male teaching in classrooms, in urban areas, where you have large, black student populations?
I think all of our students benefit. White, black, Hispanic, boys and girls benefit from having strong black males in the classroom, but particularly our young, black males.
I was down in New Orleans to give the commencement speech at Xavier last week and spent some time with a number of phenomenal young black male teachers from around the country who are a part of the freedom schools. The Children Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman's program. And it was amazing to talk to them. It was an absolutely inspiring conversation.
What Freedom School did for me is show me that I wasn't the only one that's like me. It showed that I had thousands of procedures and sisters with the same focus that even though I come from this situation, I can be that hope, I can be that influence on my whole community.
I was first a music (ph) major. Had no intention of becoming a teacher. And I got into the program and I saw the hurt in their eyes and pain and decided I just can't turn my back on these children. So I see it in my class and in my school. The staff is like 35 -- out of 35, there's only three male teachers there.
I love the foster (ph) here of the young children teaching the - the older children teaching the younger children. That was my mom's philosophy that the 15-year-olds taught the 10-year-olds and the 10-year-olds taught the five-year- olds.
The thing that really draws me in is that, as black males, we have a huge impact on the kids we teach. And we -- they really gravitate to us and they really just are engaged by the conversations that we hold. And so I think that if there are more of us, then we will create more black teachers and more dynamic black males in the courtroom.
From the time you started in primary school, elementary school, middle school, up until your senior year, had you ever been taught by an African-American male teacher?
I did have one African-American male teacher, one role model that took me under his wing and stuck with me through the rough, hard, sticky, nasty, grimy times. His name was William Marcel Hayes. And he definitely looked out for me like someone should look out for other people like me in the streets as a child.
I think it's important to make sure that teaching becomes a profession that's highlighted in our society, that it becomes profession that people desire, it's not just a default position. We have a need for more African American males in the classroom to fill those voids so that our students can see that on a daily basis. So that all the intellectuals are interested in the medical field, all the intellectuals are interested in the law professions. But they are also in our classrooms. Because it's not just to put a black face in front of the students, but to put one who cares, to put one who can advocate for them, who's committed to their futures and their success.
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