In 1992, my older brother Rodney committed suicide. I will never forget hearing that and feeling a sense of disappointment...I was heartbroken...but I was more upset that he had accomplished what I should have long before…because I felt alone in this world.
Dismissed by my father, ignored and left to live (mostly) alone by my mother, I grew up as a neighborhood enigma. I was poorer than most of the kids on the block, yet rode buses far out to the county to attend school in one of the richest school districts in our state.
I was a black boy, in a mostly white school district. I was “too smart” to stay engaged in the traditional classroom, yet by the slimmest of margins I failed to qualify for gifted learning (unlike when I was in our neighborhood school district).
I was a loner in both settings. I was too Black to be accepted by my white schoolmates, but into too much “white shit” to be embraced by my inner-city neighbors (and even my family). I was surrounded by many people and yet understood by no one.
In 1996, I tried to commit suicide and our school counselor took an interest in me, and helped me to see the potential I had in helping others. I started working with an after-school organization named TREND (Turning Resources and Energy in New Directions). I used TREND as an outlet to advocate for positive social change for teens around the world. With TREND, I realized that I could command a room with my presence, if I had a knowledge base to support me.
Although academically my grades in high school dropped at one point to a 1.097 grade point average (before I transferred schools), I graduated on time and even earned a few academic scholarships.When it was time to pick a career field, I knew that education would be the one space that I could continue to utilize my natural talents and affect positive change.
I recommitted to my academics and have since earned six post-high school degrees, and I am currently working on my Doctorate. I have also learned outside of the classroom, and have been trained by groups like Teaching Tolerance and Educational Equity Consultants in the areas of Unpacking Racism and Social Justice.
I use this gained knowledge towards meeting my ultimate goal in education: to teach students that school is more than your grades, but finding one’s authentic self.
I want my classroom to be a space of emotional empathy so that each student can discover within themselves the most authentic version of who they want to be. I commit to this in the same spirit that Mrs. Cosair (the name of the counselor mentioned above) once instilled in me.
I am not perfect, yet the pursuit of student holistic success inspires me. Every day, I attempt to be a true advocate for each student so that no one ever feels alone like I once did.
Today, I have a phenomenal wife, three amazing kids, and thousands of students. I will never feel alone again.
Every February we celebrate Black History Month in our nation. While it is important to make sure students know the key names and figures in much of our understanding of Black History (names like Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Barack Obama), we must ensure that these names do not overshadow our full understanding of Black History throughout time. The names listed are important, and no one can minimize their contributions and/or importance, but too often these names become the only black history our students know or can quote. So today we want to introduce you to ten figures that we encourage you to mention in your classrooms. Figures that are sometimes not listed in textbooks but nevertheless a complete understanding of our world or our history would be lost without mention of them and their contributions.
Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable: Frontiersmen
Created with founding a settlement that later became the City of Chicago in 1779.
Carlota Lukumi: Freedom Fighter
Forced into slavery in Cuba, she used “talking drums” to communicate coded messages with other enslaved people to plan a successful revolt that inspired other uprising in Cuba.
Queen Nzingha: Queen of Angola
Best remembered for her resistance to the Portuguese and setting her people free from slavery.
Claudette Colvin: First Montgomery Bus Protestor
Nine months before Rosa Parks she refused to move from her seat on a segregated bus. Her story is not celebrated because she had a child out of wedlock. However, she did serve as a star witness alongside other plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle Case.
Rube Foster: Negro League Baseball Player/Owner/Manager
Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, Foster organized the first long-lasting professional league for African-America baseball players the Negro National League (NNL).
Percy Julian: Scientist
A research pioneer in chemistry, his work laid the foundation for the creation of the steroid drug industry. One of the first African-Americans to receive a Doctorate in Chemistry.
Ella Baker: Civil Rights Activist
Considered by many to be the most influential woman of the Civil Rights Movement, she worked beside many of the figures of the day to support sit-ins, boycotts, and protests to achieve social justice in America.
Dr. Dorothy Height: Civil Rights Activist
She worked alongside several campaigns with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Co-organized the March on Washington in 1963.
Henrietta Lacks: Medical Pioneer
Her cancer cell cultures have been used since 1951 to aid in most of the important medical research gains during this time. Her cells have helped create a vaccine for polio and have been used to aid research in cancer, AIDS, virology and other medical and cosmetic products or industries.
Bessie Coleman: Aviator
The first woman of African-American and Native American descent to hold a pilot license.
Huey P. Newton: Political Activist
Co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. This party while presented as radical, had many things in their charter that benefit us all today including sponsoring one of the first free breakfast programs for children in America. They also gave out sickle-cell anemia tests, free food and shoes for the community, and created independent Afrocentric schools that taught students how to stand up and defend their civil rights and liberties.