While parents have voiced concerns with seeing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools slipping back into a pattern of segregation during recent years, the lack of diversity in the teachers' lounge has been less of an immediate issue.
Yet there are just 450 black male teachers currently working in CMS's 159 schools, which equals about six percent of the teacher workforce, said former teacher Jason Terrell, who is now working to bring those numbers up.
In 2014, Terrell and fellow teacher Mario Javon Shaw set out to fix the inequity among CMS staff by founding Profound Gentlemen, a nonprofit aimed at recruiting, developing and retaining black male educators to help impact the lives of students, specifically black males.
In August 2015, the two made Profound Gentlemen a full-time mission. They have built a network of 300 black male educators who are Profound Gentlemen members around the country, most of whom work and reside in Charlotte.
On Oct. 15, Terrell and Shaw helped organize their first Males in Education Challenge, hoping to use hip-hop as a unifying force to help students, educators and parents relate to each other more closely. A crowd of kids looked on at the recreation center at Bruns Academy in west Charlotte as local rappers Jay Way Sosa and Born Rich performed. Kids also had the chance to perform their own raps.
Following the event, Creative Loafing sat down with Terrell to talk about why putting more black men into the classroom is important and how the first year has gone.
Creative Loafing: What made you decide to start Profound Gentlemen?
Jason Terrell: It came from my time as a classroom teacher. I taught three years at James Martin Middle School and Mario taught two years at Ranson Middle School, and we noted that there were high minority populations at both schools, but the teachers didn't reflect the student demographic. That's why we decided we needed more black male teachers in schools with high minority student populations. Research shows that having role models will ensure success in the lives of kids. We want to make sure these kids, in particular black male students, have positive role models inside the classroom for a reinforced image of positivity.
Did you have a similar experience when you were a student?
I never had a black male teacher in my schooling, but I was fortunate to grow up with my grandfather and father, who were definitely a big help and positive role models that benefitted me. But as far as in my schooling, I never had a black male educator.
One thing I struggled with in school is that idea that education wasn't cool to me because I had never seen a man standing in front of me that was a consistent part of my schooling. I had to grow out of that idea that being smart wasn't the cool thing to do. I think definitely having a teacher who I could relate to and talk to and who I could see in an educative position would have helped me. I had the academic smarts but I didn't want to express them.
October 31 marks your first anniversary as an organization. Who have you been working with in the community over that first year and who do you plan to work with in the next future?
We have built four main partnerships. We started with Teach For America Charlotte. We have an opportunity to do development sessions with their core members on diversity training.
Our second partnership is with The Male Leadership Academy of Charlotte; a private school for African-American males. We go into their school and look at exemplary models of black male educators and a black male principal in this city.
We also have a partnership with My Brothers Keeper Charlotte, a program that was started by President Obama. They help us get the word out about programs, getting connected to donors.
With CMS, right now the partnership is still developing, but we are going to help them with their recruiting process. We will begin work on getting more African American males into the classroom starting in 2016.
With so much focus on student diversity, do you think the lack of teacher diversity is an over-looked issue?
I definitely think so. I think student diversity is essential, but I also think its important from our perspective to have that diversity in staff, that reflects the student body. Our teaching staff is pretty much dominated by white female teachers, which isn't a bad thing. There are plenty of great teachers in our schools doing great things, but I do think we need to shed light on the issue of having a diverse school staff as well.
How early should efforts start to get more black males interested in approaching education as a career?
I wasn't an education major in college, but I found my way to teaching. The number one thing is we try to focus on the sense of community and sense of representation. If you have more representation of black male educators then that profession becomes possible.
I didn't think that being a teacher was possible when I was a kid because I didn't see anyone that looked like me in front of me. So that idea of being an educator wasn't there. The idea of having the reinforced image stating that education could potentially be a possible profession that you can maintain and have a livelihood is important.
What were your thoughts on the first hip-hop event?
The big thing we want to focus on next time is trying to get more community members there. There were lots of educators and lots of kids, but I didn't see many parents there. The parents would drop their kids off and then leave. So our goal is to try to see how we can get parents to show up. It's important for them to be involved with their kid's education, and that's the unifying concept behind getting parents, kids and teachers together using music. We can share that.