A few years ago caught up with one of my high school crushes Joyce Wells who became a school teacher in Southfield and asked me to speak to a couple of the classes.
I said yes but was struck how excited other teachers were to have me in the building. They all said the same thing. The students do not see many black males in the building. There were no black male teachers at the school and there had not been any for years.
I thought it was odd until I thought back to my educational back ground. Outside of gym teachers I only had one black male teacher during 10 years of public school education in Detroit, two years of private school and four years at Central Michigan University.
His name was Mr. Kearney, a third grade American history teacher that I both loved and feared. He was a former paratrooper in World War II and he used to tell us the best stories about war. He hated how television and the government used to glorify war. He said war was hell and never wanted to go through it again.
He said he sometimes shouted instructions to fellow paratroopers while floating from the sky and got no response.
“I’d look over,” he said. “And my boys would be all shot up. I knew I could be next.”
I was discouraged from becoming a sports writer by many of my teachers “because that’s not what blacks do.”
Now that seems silly today when you see all the black faces on ESPN and other networks. There were about 50 black sports writers nationwide when I got my first full-time gig at the Detroit Free Press in 1982.
When I told Mr. Kearney I wanted to be a sports writer his response was short and to the point.
“Shit, you can do that,” he said.
Yeah, he also had a salty mouth. I don’t know where Mr. Kearney was from. But he never said we lived in the United States of America. It was always the United States of Amuuuurica!!
He dealt with a lot of kids who had already given up on life, but in between lectures on Lincoln and Kennedy he always told us we could be anything we wanted and to ignore the negative environment we lived in.
I was made fun of because I read books, studied hard and spoke “proper English.” People said I wanted to be white. That’s not true. I wanted to get paid.
According to a recent Albert Shanker Institute study, students of color are now in the majority in pubic schools, but the number of black male teachers has shrunk while the number of Latino teachers has not kept pace.
From 2002-2015 15 percent of black teachers left New York City schools and 62 percent of black teachers left New Orleans schools. In contrast NYC showed a 1.9 percent decrease in white teachers and New Orleans reported a 3.3 percent increase in white teachers.
So why does it matter? Isn’t a teacher of any color good for students? The answer is yes but studies have shown that black male teachers have higher expectations for black students and reach them more than white teachers.
For instance the only teacher who believed I could be a sports writer in the United States of Amuuuuuurica was Mr. Kearney — way back in third grade.