A young male teacher with long dreadlocks sits against a student's desk to help him with a problem.

“I Wanted To Be An Example For Young Black Boys In My Classroom"

Mario Jovan Shaw (Charlotte '12) shares why he joined Teach For America.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

I was born to be a mentor.  Starting in college, I found a fulfillment in helping the next generation, more specifically first year black male college students to graduate from college and go on to embark in the field of their choice. While at the University of Cincinnati, I would have mentored over 15 gentlemen who have all become or becoming successful.  Just recently, one of my mentees asked, “Mario, why did you join Teach For America?  What did you get out of it?”  I responded stating “I wanted to be an example for young black boys in my classroom.  I wanted them to believe that they to could succeed and become whatever they set their hearts of to become.”  

Now, coming from a single parent household and attending inner-city schools in Cleveland, oh, my odds were stacked against me.  It was the wisdom acquired from my grandfather, uncle and dad who I visited often, that motivated me.  They knew that I could achieve and be the first in the family to graduate college.  There were times when I didn’t even see it for myself, but if they believed in me, doggonit I better start believing in myself as well.  

However, far too often young black boys are not awarded the opportunity to have a strong male support system that I had.  A lot of my students never met their father or wanted nothing to do with them.  I had one of my black male students state that “Mr. Shaw, I want to be successful and make it through college so that I could be nothing like my dad”.  To hear those words is heartbreaking.  So, I joined Teach For America to do just that; be a beacon of light for the black males in my classroom.   It wasn’t until I got into the classroom that i realized I was much more than that.  

It would be small of me to believe that all black males who enter the classroom are going to be able to mentor or share the same story as our students.  I strongly believe in the power of many stories of  black male teachers.  We all have a story, and they are widely different.  I can only tell the story of my experience.  In addition to being a teacher, I am a mentor.  Just like how I’ve been called to serve as a teacher through Teach For America, I’ve also had pleasure of seeing my own mentee get accepted into Teach For America and serve in the Southwest Ohio region.  He was called to do this work and lead a generation of not just young black boys but his students as a whole to success.  I’ve also had other mentees who are considering applying in the fall.  

Our students need to see the many variations of Black Male teachers have the potential to impact his classroom.  Those who are called to do this work will quickly realize how it is the most challenging yet rewarding experiences that you would encounter in your whole life. Above all of those things, you helping children realize that dreams are possible.  I, a college graduate, found out that it was possible.  

Mario Jovan Shaw is a 2012 corps member in Charlotte, NC. 

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