Black teachers are powerful and not simply because a body of empirical evidence says so. It’s because for many of us, if not all of us, our passion for our people fuels our pedagogy. I realized this when I became a teacher. This is not to brag or boast but it is to say that my students leaned on me to teach them truth (history) as well as to help them interpret living in dark skin in a white society.
I welcomed the role because I sought to provide my student what I didn’t have.
Sadly, I have more fingers on one hand than I had Black teachers from K-16. The bulk of my teachers were white. It wasn’t until college where I learn about America as it was and still is; that’s when I heard the voices of Black people who articulated the freedom struggle through song, poetry, and prose.
I desired to give my students, my children, that instruction before they reached college.
I had three Black teachers in my life K-16, Ms. Wilson in Kindergarten, and Drs. Katrina Hazzard-Donald and Wayne Glasker in undergrad. Ms. Wilson provided a space where I and my classmates would be loved and understood as Black and Brown children. That isn’t to say my other white teachers after her couldn’t or wouldn’t, because a few did, like Mrs. Green in 8th grade. But for the most part, they didn’t.
Drs. Hazzard-Donald and Glasker schooled me on what I should have learned in depth prior to college; Black history, Black culture, and the Black identity, as well as the formation and sustaining of these within a white supremacist social order.
Their knowledge, pedagogy and instruction provided a frame of reference for me and my colleagues, to understand the struggles we experienced within society as emerging Black adults. Society was unapologetic about who it was, and those instructors of history and sociology prepared us for how to encounter as well as respond to America using critical thinking, by making critical connections, and through articulating our thoughts through written word and verbalization.
That was the power of the Black teachers in my life.
This year, I am excited to be back in the classroom. Although teaching is not my primary role at my school, it is a role I take seriously. I have the privilege of teaching 26 sophomores to prepare them for college level work. I am excited to strengthen their skills as readers, writers, and speakers by way of teaching them the history that was withheld from them up to this point.
When I’ve shared my intentions with my colleagues, many of them white, they’ve responded with excitement for my students while wishing to sit in my class. The same sentiments are made by many of my own friends on social media after sharing some of the articles and books we’ll read over the course of the year.
These comments and conversations just affirm what I’ve always knew; our schools need more Black teachers because Black teachers are the vanguard of Black activism.
In Dr. Jarvis Givens text, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching, he articulates Black teachers traditionally served as teachers by connecting the skills of reading (writing and arithmetic by extension) with the liberation of Black people.
During the antebellum period as well as during Jim Crow, Black literacy and Black learning was under attack by the law. In the antebellum south it was the outlawing of teaching enslaved persons how to read or write; during Jim Crow, it was the doctrine of separate and “un”-equal itself. Thus, the educated Black mind created a literal fugitive within a white supremacist society – which was more dangerous than the Black fugitive in body only.
Frederick Douglass’ captor once said, “learning would spoil the best n***** in the world.”
But what he considered spoiling was revelation to Douglass; learning to read and write gave the enslaved mind revelation to his/her physical condition and tools to be both his or her own master as a fugitive.
Dr. Givens’ text explains that the role of the Black teacher was similar. Through teaching Black children of their identity and the inherent call to activism on behalf of Black people, Black teachers created fugitives in a society that sought to keep them bound, long after the removal of the physical chains of their fathers. Black teachers were activists engaged in the act of resistance through the defiant teaching of truth within a white supremacist society employing the tactics of subversion.
Many Black teachers remain activists today.
We are necessary because our teaching is an act of resistance in a society that desires our complete and utter submission. But we resist; our lives as Black people itself is an act of resistance.
As Black people live, we give voice to injustice through boycotting, protesting, and voting. As we’ve seen, our acts of resistance have facilitated an insurrection in protest of the Black vote, laws nationwide with the intention of prohibiting the Black vote, Black protests, and the teaching of Black history, labeled Critical Race Theory, in schools.
Black teachers have this collective experience and historical memory to articulate to Black children and others what and why to help the navigate this society in ways that empower them not to accept the society that will be passed to them.
As I said earlier, Black teachers are powerful.
Thankfully, there are organizations and groups working to increase the number of Black teachers nationwide; organizations like the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED).
Thursday September 9, they’re launching the campaign #WeNeedBlackTeachers. Since CBED’s inception, they’ve worked tirelessly to increase the number of Black teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, with a focus on Philadelphia. Their success in this work has provided them with a model to enable them to transition to do the same nationwide.
The goal of this national initiative is simple: facilitate more Black teachers entering classrooms across the country. Through this campaign, CBED specifically hopes to do the following:
- Add 21,000 Black students to the teaching pipeline
- Raise awareness around the shortage of Black teachers
- Inspire young people to consider the education field
- Partner with national and local thought-leaders to create a movement around education as activism
Anyone interested in supporting this campaign can do so by hashtagging #WeNeedBlackTeachers on September 9 and sharing a story about the impact a Black teacher has had on their life on social media. You can find more information on how you can help by checking out the influencer toolkit HERE.
All children need to experience the power of a Black teacher, especially Black children. It is my hope that with this campaign, the need for Black teachers will be magnified and more will enter classrooms nationwide.
This isn’t a want but rather a necessity that requires our attention and demand.