A boy in a white sweater and a girl in a blue t-shirt sitting at a table, smiling, working on a science experiment in a classroom.

Why I Joined TFA and My Path to Service

An African American teacher reflects on his decision to teach.

By

By
Thursday, January 21, 2016

Every single day in our nation, little black boys wake up, get dressed, and go to school in one of the nation’s public schools. The fact is that some of these schools are not equal, whether in terms of facilities, cultural diversity, curriculum, or even the face that greets them every morning: their teacher. In a profession where black males make up only two percent of over 3.1 million teachers in public schools, it is not always likely that our black boys will see a face that looks like theirs in front of the classroom. It is this need that prompted me to join Teach For America to serve as a role model and give back to my community, and keeps me in this fight nearly two years after my initial commitment.

Before I joined Teach For America in 2012, I was teaching high school science in Virginia for nearly five years. I taught my first three years at a large, suburban public high school—the largest public school in Virginia at the time with roughly 3,400 students. It sat right in the middle of a country club. The latter two years, I taught at a small, independent pre-K through 12th grade private school. At both schools, I was one of two black male teachers of a fairly sizeable faculty. And as I looked out onto the faces of my students every day, I couldn’t help but notice that my classroom didn’t reflect the nation’s greater diversity. I had a firsthand look at what location and money could afford you in terms of education, and went home almost every night feeling as if I should be serving students and communities that were reminiscent of my hometown of Washington, D.C., and I made the decision to join Teach For America.

I began my two years of service at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD. It was a school that could trace the effects of desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement through decades of yearbooks I poured over when I was first hired. When the school first opened in 1951, 100 percent of the students identified as white. On my first day there, some 61 years later, the demographics of my classroom were nearly 100 percent African American and Latino students. In moments of complete transparency and honesty—some forced and many natural—my students and I had conversations about race and class in America that shattered what I thought I knew about growing up in a supposedly post-racial society.

One hundred percent of my biology students passed the end of course assessment, but they ended up teaching me so much more. These are lessons that I still draw upon in my new role as a charter school administrator.

For many of us, the words “servant leader” are synonymous with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is only fitting that the national holiday named in his honor is marked by service events in communities all around our country. But the truth is that Dr. King lived not only one day, but all of his days seeking to aid and uplift our brothers and sisters who live in the most underserved—and often unnoticed communities. While this total dedication can be daunting for some, it is really a call to action for all of us to do more; to seek the challenges of service more than just on convenient occasions, but as an integral part of your life.

My path to service came through education, and I’d encourage you to do the same if so called. As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha—the same fraternity of which Dr. King was a member—I am encouraged by the partnership between the fraternity and Teach For America to recruit qualified, African American male teachers to the classroom. Alpha men live true to the aims of the fraternity—manly deeds, scholarship, and love for all mankind—which was not only exhibited by Dr. King and his work, but by numerous members of the fraternity who have and are making a difference every single day in their communities.

No matter who you are, what you are, where you’re from, or what you believe, I think we can all be inspired by the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is truly a call to action: live your life in a way that enables as many people as possible to have access to the same opportunities as you do. For that is how we can, one day, fulfill the dream Dr. King had so many years ago.

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