According to state data, less than 2% of Minnesota’s K-12 teachers are Black. Normandale Community College launched its Black Men in Teaching (BMIT) program this school year to recruit and support Black, African American, and African men for elementary and secondary teaching jobs.
Marvis Kilgore, the program’s first director, was born and raised in Holly Springs, Miss. He said he had Black teachers all through his schooling, beginning with pre-K. Joyce Ester, Normandale’s president since 2014, noted that she had Black female teachers, but not that many. Darius Meyers, Jr. doesn’t remember seeing any Black male teachers when he attended school, but he hopes one day to change that.
“Darius Meyers, Jr. is the embodiment of Black excellence,” declared Kilgore. Meyers is one of three Black men in the first BMIT cohort.
The teaching profession isn’t promoted to Black males as it should be, said Ester. “There’s a perception out there that teachers don’t make a lot of money, that it’s not a great job. I think oftentimes culturally, for Black men, they think about careers that are going to make money because they want to support a family… We have to put the profession in front of folks so that young Black men see it as something that they want.”
Kilgore’s education experience includes teaching elementary bilingual math and science in Houston, Texas for Teach for America. He was an ESL lecturer and program coordinator at the Community College of Qatar for almost a decade and once taught English at a British institution of higher education.
“We had a lot of really amazing men apply for that position,” recalled Ester on the search for the first BMIT director. “We were able to get Marvis, his energy, his passion, his level of motivation. He gave me a four-page document of all the things that he had done, the people that he met, the ideas that he had.”
Because the program was new to Normandale, “I needed someone who could come in and basically be given a blank piece of paper and create a whole program,” added the president.
Although new to the Bloomington-based two-year college, BMIT isn’t novel: Clemson University’s Call Me MISTER program is among many such initiatives around the country dedicated to bringing more Blacks into teaching. “I know that my colleagues around the country are doing really amazing work,” said Ester.
Meyers, who is a school paraprofessional in Edina, and his fellow cohorts are receiving $10,000 annual scholarships that cover tuition, fees and books. “And it allows for a $3,500 modest living allowance,” explained Kilgore.
The program also provides academic support, leadership training, cultural competency training, international summer experience, professional mentors, and “tailored advising to ensure successful transition into a four-year program,” he added.
“Why only Black men?” Kilgore is often asked. “I pose a question to that question: Why not Black males? When we look at the historic systemic racism and discrimination, oftentimes Black males get sorted. We look at the data alone, just looking at the educational gap as it relates to graduation rates.
“This program has the potential to be transformative, not just for Black men but for all of American society,” said Kilgore.
“My intentions are to work with fourth- and fifth-graders,” said Meyers. “I would love to stay in Edina. I feel that me being out there is a positive because those kids got to see how a Black man really is. My main goal down the road is…an [teaching] opportunity in the urban area.”
Said Kilgore, “I affectionately refer to our inaugural cohort as the great expectations, because I honestly have great expectations for all three of these young men. We are expecting about three or four to join us in the spring cohort.”
Having more Black teachers, especially Black males, is “not just an impact for Black and Brown children, but it’s also an impact for White children so that they change the narrative…that they are not the scary Black man,” noted Ester.
“People can reach out to me—my email is email@example.com,” concluded Kilgore. “We are looking for mentors for our program, people who mirror ideally the demographics of the men in our program. We won’t turn anyone away.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.