Greenwood Leadership Academy’s founding staff. Fall 2017 Photo by Denice Toombs
Published 11/22/2017 | Reading Time 4 min 9 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director & executive editor
The founding principal of Greenwood Leadership Academy (GLA), Kojo Asamoa-Caesar, declares love is the driving force that compels children to learn.
“Do you love me? Do you believe in me? Are you going to give me a chance?” are three virtuous questions Asamoa-Caesar believes are pondering in the minds of students across the country.
“Do you love me? Do you believe in me? Are you going to give me a chance?”
When reaching Black youth, Asamoa-Caesar is convinced that cultural competency is vital to reaching these Black students.
GLA, located in north Tulsa, resides in a predominately Black neighborhood — boasting a majority Black staff, not only amid a state teacher shortage but among a nationwide Black teacher shortage.
Black teachers make up only 7% of America’s teaching population. The number is even smaller when it comes to Black male teachers. They make up less than 2%.
Children sit quietly in Mrs. Princiz Jones’s kindergarten class at GLA.
Where did all of the Black teachers go?
A Harvard education review study indicates that potential Black teachers are less likely to be hired than their white counterparts.
The study looked at “hiring patterns of one large unidentified public school district,” which found that “Black and White teachers, who applied for jobs in the district, were equally qualified; however, white teachers received a disproportional number of job offers,” a stark difference when comparing employment percentages from both cohorts.
Despite the fact that 13% of applicants, in the study, were Black, only 6% of the Black cohort received teaching positions. And of the 70 White applicants who applied, 77% of their group received teaching positions.
History on Black Teachers in Oklahoma
Hence, a homogenously Black teaching and administrative staff, such as GLA, was long overdue for the Tulsa community. The school is essentially making history by having a nearly all-Black staff.
Asamoa-Caesar explains, “There is an added value for a majority African-American staff when our kids can see themselves in the leaders who are standing in front of them on a daily basis.” And “It’s not necessarily that the staff has to be Black because you can be Black and not culturally competent, and you can be White and be culturally competent.”
Last year Heather Finch, a second-grade teacher at St. John’s Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee, switched the words to the song “Juju on that Beat” to connect with her Black students. Finch’s remixed version of the famous rapper’s song won big with her classroom and gave her national recognition.
Some may view Ms. Finch’s remix as cultural appropriation; however, it’s about connecting to the kids so they can learn, and Finch has certainly found her niche in teaching kids of a different ethnicity than her own.
On the Importance of Black Teachers
A John Hopkins University study found that “having a Black teacher in elementary school significantly increases the likelihood that the Black student will graduate.” Hence, “The impact is particularly acute for low-income black boys.”
GLA’s Board Chairman, Dr. Ray Owens — founder of the MetCares Foundation and Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church — says that having a Black teacher made him see life differently.
“Dr. George Wright was the first Black man I met with a Ph.D. Because he did it, I figured I could.” Dr. Owens further explained that Dr. Wright “talked like me; walked like me; cracked the same kind of jokes that I did; knew how to play the dozens — a culturally authentic brother, who also was a great scholar/educator.”
Dr. Ownes said that Dr. Wright changed his life and that he is who he is today because of Dr. Wright.
Chris Brown Sr., from North Tulsa, explained that in the ’60s and ’70s Black teachers were an abundance in schools.
“I had lots of Black teachers.” He explained, “When I came up, Black teachers taught at Black schools.”
Unfortunately, in Tulsa today, the desegregation of public schools during the ’50s and ’60s meant the demotion, and in some instances, the termination of Black teachers in order to satisfy racially balanced quotas that were mandated by the federal court.
Here’s where the Tulsa Public Schools district (TPS) stands in diversity today.
Currently, across the state, Black teachers make up only 3% of the teaching population. As for TPS, Black teachers represent 12% of the teaching population.
One can easily argue that 12% is fairly great, considering Blacks represent 15% of the Tulsa population. The majority of Black Tulsans live in north Tulsa, where neighborhood schools are filled with majority Black students.
Note* If two races mean half-black and half-other, then we can add two races on top of the 65.8-percent school’s black population because America still sees the one-drop rule. After all, I’m 20% percent French according to my ancestry.com test results.
Conversations on Black Education
This month, I posted two questions on Facebook to friends and followers. I asked:
Q1: Did you have a black male teacher growing up?
The majority of my social media friends have expressed that they didn’t have Black teachers while growing up. Of those that did, their Black teachers were usually gym teachers.
I, personally, didn’t have my first Black male teacher until my senior year of high school. I had one Black female teacher, and I can tell you, she wasn’t culturally competent.
Q2: How important was having a black teacher to you?
Mr. Anderson, my Black high school teacher, is the reason why I graduated from high school and went to college. My college professor, Ms. LaRhue Finney, who is also Black, is why I’ve grown to love reading and writing and now I enjoy teaching it. Ms. Finney enriched me with Black authors for the first time in my educational experience. Mr. Anderson is why I love History and why I enjoy teaching it, too.
Diversity in education is essential to curing our nation of systemic racism in academia. Our children deserve to see all ethnicities represented in their classrooms. After all, they are tomorrow’s leaders.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.