Black Teachers Offer Our Black Children Something Others Can’t: Empathy
I don’t have an overwhelming need to surround my kids with people who look just like them. I believe that kids should be familiar with all types of people, customs, and cultures. Children’s perceptions of other people and cultures should not be solely from the outside, but rather from an intimate, familiar perspective from relationships and exposure.
While the above is true of all children, I believe that exposure of black children to other cultures must include at the core of its framework a positive experience of people who look just like them. Black children should see people who look like them working in significant roles as they interact with them through their life’s experiences – such as, going to the doctor, or their church, and especially when learning from teachers.
Anyone who cares for children and devotes his or her life to teaching other people’s children is commendable. It’s a career that is getting harder to do in today’s environment. Although many can be qualified to teach, it takes a special talent to reach children where they are. In order to reach children, you have to understand who they are and understand the complexities of their experience. You must also be able to imagine their potential future experiences not only as black children but as they grow into adulthood. This level of understanding can only come from having walked in the shoes of a black person. At this level, the care and focus can be in educating and molding the whole being, the whole child.
In the book Black Like Me, published in 1959, John Howard Griffin, the author and main character undergoes medication and exposure to ultra-violet lights to darken his skin in order that he might understand the black experience. In his own account, and of course, speaking of that time period, Griffin finds that conditions for blacks were appalling and that black communities seemed run-down and defeated. He even notices a look of defeat and hopelessness on his own face, after only a few weeks as a black man. This new level of understanding he possessed could not have be possible without having experienced what black people experienced first-hand in the 1960s deep south.
Our understanding of one another’s experiences as black people is critical to the manner in which we educate our children to respond to and cope with racism they will face. Black children, in particular, are bombarded with mixed messages about who they are and who they should be. This is confusing at best.
Having a black role model in such an impressionable position is significant to a healthy sense of self and identity. Further, it is even more impactful and meaningful for a young black male to have a black male teacher than it is for him to just have a black teacher. Positive images of black males are not in abundance in our society and unfortunately, many young black boys do not have fathers living with them in the home.
It is on this basis that we clearly identify the need to adopt the African proverb into our way of thinking concerning educating black children, it takes a whole village to raise a child. You might add it takes a whole village to raise and educate a child. Others in our community must be aware of their part in this village and we, ourselves, interacting with our children should recognize the role we play in the village.
With the digital network and systems in place today, the work of the village must broaden with increased diligence or we will completely lose our children. We cannot ignore the impact that black teachers have on black children and the role black teachers play in molding future generations of black children. It only further dictates that our voice must be deliberate and lifted as one on this topic to ensure that we value and secure more black teachers and leaders for the future.