[OP-ED] Black Male Educators: The Difference Between Yale & Jail

There are more African American young men in jail cells than in classrooms today. Among the hundreds of factors that produce this statistic, one contributing facet is the lack of black men who pursue education as a career.

According to a College Board report (2011) and the US Census (2008), out of the 39.6 percent of African American men who obtain high school diplomas only an average of 20.9 percent of those young men will enroll in a two or four year college. An unacceptable fraction of 1.7 percent will enter into graduate school thereafter. When you calculate the very low retention rates that plague African American collegians nationwide into this equation, one could debatably say that only 1 out of every 10 African American men will graduate with an Associates degree or higher.

In 2009, the NY Times released statistics that displayed the disproportionate figures of incarcerated men across racial lines. These statistics conclude that about 25 percent of black children at age 14 (born in 1990) would have had their father in prison. Additionally, as of 2009 the Department of Justice states that of the 2.1 million inmates imprisoned in our nation, over 40 percent of them are African American men.

It’s no secret that many states in our nation, when creating their budgets, project the financial responsibility for the construction of prisons on test scores of African American young men as early as elementary school. What does this fact illustrate about America’s school system that serves millions of African American students across our nation everyday? Additionally, what can we as black men do to change that?

When people ask why I graduated from college and immediately became a teacher, instead of listing my catalog of passionate reasons I simply respond, “If I’m not teaching the future black leaders of America, then who is and who will?” Thinking back on the past 18 years of my schooling in various sectors, both public and private, I can count on one hand how many of my teachers were African-American men. Of those teachers, most of them I encountered in the Africana Studies department in college, an institution where most young black men will sadly never have the privilege of attending. In my current position as an educator, I witness hundreds of teachers enter classrooms to teach African American boys and girls, yet the number of black male teachers I encounter are scarce.

Black male educators make up only about two percent of all teachers across the country, thus there is a high need for black men to enter America’s classrooms as educators and mentors who serve as a role model that believes education is not an option but a necessity. Ultimately, one difference between Yale and jail for young African American men is seeing a strong black man standing in front of your classroom on a daily basis.

In many of our urban cities where the need to see positive black men in the daily lives of our students is imperative, that need is unfulfilled. Students spend over forty percent of their day in classrooms until the age of 16 in most states. Consequently, the role that a teacher plays in their lives is extremely critical to their social and academic development. Young African American men in urban areas see their role models in the media, on the basketball court, or in a music video. In all honesty, the first role model that many young black men see growing up in a marginalized area is the neighborhood drug dealer who sacrifices his life daily for the survival of his family.

It’s difficult to see the importance of education if for the first ten years of your educational career you realize that the only black men you see in your school building are the janitors, lunch attendants, or security guards; if you’re lucky you’ll see a black male P.E or music teacher. Black male teachers have more of an impact on the future of our black children than anyone truly realizes.

Given the amount of time a child spends in school, one can say that students spend just as much time with their teachers on a daily basis as they would with their parents. Black male educators are in a position to have the most profound and immediate affect on students. Being in a position to give new generations better opportunities could mean one less black man in the ‘state pin’ and one more that graduates from Penn State.

As referenced earlier, there are about one million African American teenagers leaving their fatherless homes to go to school each day. It is our duty as progressive African American men to greet them at the doors of education with the key to unlock their successful futures.


  • Jason Morrison

    Really great and inciteful article

    • http://www.SeanLarry.com Sean Stevens

      Thanks Jason…I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Tariq Meyers

    This article not only reveals a clear depth in critical thinking as it relates to the experience of black men, but as a black male to know that over 40 percent of your counterparts will not make it to higher education is astonishing. We need to invest in ways to break the chain of institutionalized racism, and stop the incarceration of the black body; an ongoing trend since the 80’s and Reaganism. We need more educators like you who are committed to furthering the positive identity experience of young black men through schooling. I never considered combating the system through schooling until now. Impressive work.

  • http://www.SeanLarry.com Sean Stevens

    Wow! I am pleased to know that I’ve opened your eyes a little bit more on the injustices that pleague and affect our young black men. Thanks for your comment and I hope you get involved in the political aspects of education in order to make a difference.

  • Kira West

    This subject is one that hits close to home because a friend of mine just finished his time in prison and is now attempting to finish college. Although he is on the journey to higher education he has no mentors and no direction and could really use someone like you in his life. I will in fact share this article with him because it may offer him a little perspective. I thought it was really interesting to mention that children spend as much time with their parents as they do with their teachers and from working with children myself I know that educators impact children greatly. It really angers me that the image of the black man is so often a negative one, I have been blessed to know many great black men. You do amazing work and this article as an interesting and thought provoking read.

  • Mr. Caesar

    Random followup thought: education may not be the lucrative career for choice for those black males who tend to run from parenting responsibilities. (That whole “once you have kids the bachelor life is over” thing.)

    Single or not, if black men don’t want children of their own, chances are they probably don’t want to be responsible for a swarm of other people’s children mon-fri and beyond.

  • Jillian Mula

    This article was defininitely an eye opener Mr. Stevens. I went to a predominately Caucasian Ivy league University where
    African Americans especially African American males were scarce. I hope that people read this article and take a look at themselves and their part in these disheartening statistics. Change has to start somewhere. This was a very good read. 

  • Jan

    Great article Larry! It’s refreshing to see someone write about a solution for once, instead of just reiterating the problem. I know we’re a long way from solving the problem but hopefully your column and your voice can begin to plant the seeds of awareness and change. I look forward to reading your thought provoking pieces each week

  • Olivia Jackson

    The plight of young black males seems to get any real recognition. Too often greater society seems to trump them together with black females and other minority demographics. However, as this feature points out their experience is unique and deserves greater consideration. It is a multifaceted issue but black men in the classroom has undoubtable potential to contribute to black men taking back their education.

  • Ryan Wright

    The dire statistics presented by Mr. Stevens give weight to need for black males to more ownership in the lives of young black males. It is something trully powerful about seeing a person that looks like be successful. I constantly remind myself each day that I am more than a teacher but a mentor. Thats for the insighful article Mr. Stevens

  • Sean

    This would be a good article if only the facts were correct, and you did not omit the variety of disparities that account for the educational gap and lack of resources between Blacks and other racial groups of European descent. Not only is the information about more Blacks being in prison than in college inaccurate; the data is out dated. Not to mention that those statistics usually do not account for those who are incarcerated and have access to or have taken college courses or have completed a college degree. The object is to go to college and complete a degree in four or five years. The study would have to be done annually in order to have accurate and consistent numbers. And if 40% of Black men are incarcerated that means 60% are not. While I respect the passion behind your article, I would suggest that you do some further research into the statistical information that you present, and carefully read and analyze the methodology of your research findings.

  • http://www.SeanLarry.com Sean Stevens

    Sean, thanks for your comment. The article’s purpose was not to address ALL the disparities that account for the educational achievement gap, rather as stated in my first paragraph:

    Among the hundreds of factors that produce this statistic, one contributing facet is the lack of black men who pursue education as a career,

    The purpose of the article was to stress the impact that a Black man can have in America’s classroom.

    Considering that they are within the past 4 years and the college statistics are from College Board’s 2011 report, I disagree that my facts are inaccurate and outdated.

    Ultimately, this was an OP-ED article written to address solely the Black male educator. Being an educator myself, I am well versed in research methods and finding educational statistics.

    Thanks for reading and if you would like to continue this conversation offline I would be more than happy.

    Thanks everyone else who thought it was at least a “good” article.

  • Levar Desty

    Wow! Very enlightening piece. Last semester I held a discussion on this topic. Not only do I completely agree that more black male educators would be extremely resourceful in the school system, I also feel as though students need more tools to succeed. I use the term very loosely. The students that usually prosper in school are the students that given and take opportunities to advance. Programs such as gospel choir, sports teams, and othe after school programs make a big difference. Also, having positive reinforcement can change the course of a student’s life. When students are told they are doing well, when students are rewarded for doing well, and also when students are told that they are important and they have potential…these are the things that WILL make a difference in numbers.

  • Sean

    The point of the matter is that regardless of who is in the classroom, if the material being taught and the lack of resources is not tailored to the needs and accurateness of the Black identity then our youth will continue to fail. My problem was with the introductory line to your article which states: more Black men are in Jail than in the classroom- that is nothing more than White-Supremacist mythology, due to the fact that there are too many variables to be considered for the study to be accurately conducted. Furthermore, your solution presents nothing more than a plan to expose our youth to more patriarchy and monolithic paths to obtaining knowledge. While this undoubtedly may be your opinion and you may be well versed in research methods- it is a misleading one. Until we address the issues at the institutional level (regardless of who is in the front of the classroom) the disparities between Blacks in the formal education system will continue. But yes if you wish to continue the conversation (with the patriarchy left behind) you may email me.

  • http://antiintellect.wordpress.com/ Anti_Intellect

    I am a Black man. I am a sixth grade teacher. I am proud to be in the two percent, and I look forward to seeing more Black men enter the education field. I am strong, but I am a lot of other things, as well. I am nurturing, caring, compassionate, vulnerable, accessible, non-patriarchal, non-racist, non-homophobic. I strive to be the embodiment of what it means to be a humanist person in the classroom.

  • http://www.SeanLarry.com Sean Stevens

    To Anti_Intellect, I too am proud to be in the two percent and from one educator to another, continue to be all that you are in the classroom.

    I too, look forward to more black men in education.

  • Auntie B’

    I believe Change is coming. The incarceration conversation is growing thanks God!

  • Pingback: BOINNK!!! | De ‘geest’ van het oude Romeinse Rijk, die geest van hardheid en militairisme heeft vaste grond aan de voet gekregen in de Verenigde Staten()

  • ND

    As a doctoral student who is working with leading scholars in the area of Black men in P-16 education, I would be remiss to let this article go unchallenged. Despite the challenges facing Black men in education, the first sentence of this article, “There are more African American young men in jail cells than in classrooms today” is a myth and simply incorrect. Please see the work of Ivory Toldson (Deputy Director on the White House Initiative for HBCUs) at the following link: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/23/178601467/are-there-really-more-black-men-in-prison-than-college

    Incorrect facts aside, I also want to encourage you to continue to do what you’re doing. As a fellow educator, I applaud you and your efforts in helping to uplift our communities and hope you understand that I mean no harm by this comment.