There was Mr. White in middle school. He taught a Social Studies class that had an extra spoonful of African and African American experiences and influences on the world. A lot of his talking points and teachings were in line with many of the events and ideologies that my own father talked about with us at home.
There were Mr. Snap and Mr. Wear in high school. Mr. Snap was the band teacher who demanded the best from his students. His work ethic matched that of my father, and he spoke about building a reputation of excellence, while still doing things your own way. Mr. Wear appeared to be classy and stoic. His quiet disposition and our quick talks about him owning rental properties that would supplement his teaching salary, allowed me to see that he was a determined planner.
Later in life there were Dr. Rogers and Dr. Thomas. They were professors during my undergraduate experience at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. They were there to make sure I was capable of doing what it took to join their ranks. While they equipped all of us with the essentials for success, I found they would often pull me to the side to check on my health and happiness. During their office hours or after class, they also gave me a private, alternative education on what it would be like for me to be an African American Male teacher.
Finally, there was Dr. Wells. He helped me navigate my way through the journey of a graduate school experience that included more hoops than I ever imagined. He gave me the perspective of people I was working with, and made sure I did the little things that would allow me to finish in spite of numerous last minute obstacle placed in front of me.
Those were my six. Those were the six African American Male teachers I had over the course of my educational experience. They had a tremendous impact on my teaching career. When I saw them, I saw possible future versions of me. They were successful, experienced gatekeepers. Their influences allowed me to see that my ancestors were more than slaves. Their perspectives let me know that I could be successful without putting on a mask. Their understandings prepared me for initial scrutiny. Their visions gave me firm belief that I belonged, and they challenged me to have a profound impact on the lives of the youth I would work with.
See, I realize I am one African American Male teacher, who is a part of the 2% total of African American Male teachers in America. To put it into simpler terms: A student having an African American Male teacher in America happens just about as often as someone intentionally pulling the Ten of Hearts out of a deck of cards on the first try.
As I walk through the experiences of my tenth year as an educator, I find myself reflecting on those individuals who came before me, walked with me, and helped to guide me. In addition, I ponder over what my role as an educator has been for the youth I have encountered and served over the past decade. What have I given them that they will take with them for the rest of their lives? Will my teaching style allow them to meet their academic goals? Will me being a published author of a novel for children (Wrinkles Wallace: Knights of Night School) inspire them to read, write, and/or follow their dreams? How, if at all, have I made an impact on their futures? And, will they encounter more African American male teachers in their futures?
Only time will tell, but until then, I will continue to extend my range and reach as one of the 2%. Those that came before me would not have it any other way.