Upper School Math TeacherFebruary 21, 2022
Altering ParadigmsOctober 10, 2023
by James O’Neal
Recently, I attended the “Black Men in Education” forum in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it was an eye-opening experience. The panel discussions shed light on the challenges faced by Black male students and teachers. During those conversations, a profound realization dawned upon me: I am an active participant in this journey, regardless of whether I initially acknowledged it. This is the path I have willingly chosen to tread.
1. The Role of Exemplar: Shining Light on Radiant Pigmentation
In the realm of educators, Black males constitute a mere 2% of the teaching workforce in the United States. This statistic underscores the significance of our role. The issue of absent fathers is a stark reality in many communities. While this matter might sometimes be sensationalized, my experiences teaching in Pittsburgh’s inner city unveiled the extent of fatherly absence among my male students. Some were fatherless, others had disengaged fathers, and a few had fathers who were incarcerated. Thus, the truth stands before us – we are not just teachers, but role models, mentors, and father figures. Our presence is a rarity, and this rarity carries weight. It is crucial that we, as educators with radiant pigmentation, allow our identities to illuminate the lives of those we teach. I remember the open houses during which surprised Black parents would exclaim, “I had no idea you were here!” What they were trying to communicate was the fact that they felt hope was in the room with their child. Though they did not know me, they knew the rarity of my existence in this space. So, instead of shying away, we must stand tall. We signed up for this; it’s an integral part of the journey.
2. Cultivating Expertise: The Radiant Pigmentation Perspective
Have you ever been approached by fellow educators seeking advice on handling issues related to Black boys? Perhaps you’ve felt, “I can’t possibly be the authority on all matters concerning Black boys!” However, the truth is that you are. Our experiences may differ, and our thoughts, appearances, and actions may not align, but our scarcity is our strength. In a field where we are underrepresented, we hold a distinct position. It is our responsibility to address the question of our limited presence in classrooms. You may wonder if a script is necessary – and to some extent, it is. While we are not tokens, we possess something that cannot be ignored: radiant pigmentation. Our students seek connection through our shared heritage. Embracing this connection, facing the challenge, and setting boundaries is part of the responsibility. You might have to be the go-to authority on all things concerning “Black boys.” Own it.
3. Advocating for Inclusion: Expanding Horizons Beyond Radiant Pigmentation
Growing up, I felt confined to a mold that dictated I excel in sports and that would be the trophy of my success as a Black boy. My lack of athleticism derailed that path. Instead, I found myself expanding the definition of what a Black boy was and our capabilities. I found myself reaching out and encouraging my Black male friends like Carlos, Jamaar, and Courtney to be their best and show up in Black excellence, academically. It was evident that we needed to transcend the stereotypes tied to sports and entertainment. We, as individuals, and our educators, are susceptible to boxing ourselves in. Advocating for change requires us to voice our concerns to our colleagues. Their decisions about reading material, activities, field trips, music, and classroom culture have far-reaching consequences. Often, they inadvertently exclude us from the system that is designed to empower us. Advocacy, in this context, serves as a mechanism to rectify this exclusion. We must redirect the spotlight, expanding it beyond the realm of sports and entertainment and highlighting the brilliance of our minds.
In Conclusion: Navigating with Radiant Pigmentation
As I sat through the forum, absorbing the discussions, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. The expectations, although challenging, are part of our journey. With renewed strength, I am prepared to face another year in the battle for our Black boys’ education. To all the Black male educators out there, understand that you are heroes. The feelings of displacement, the burdens of overwork, and the shadows of underappreciation may linger, but one fact remains undeniable: our presence in the classroom is indispensable. We chose this path, fully aware of its challenges, and embraced it, radiant pigmentation and all.