By LaKeshia N. Myers
I have no doubt been blessed and afforded many privileges in my life and for each I am thankful. One of the things I am most grateful for is the ability to learn at the feet of master teachers. My parents, my godparents and those apart of my greater community, continuously pour into me the tools necessary to dismantle structural inequity, brick by brick. I learned very early, that action eviscerates excuses; and I was charged with remembering that above all else, I was a child of God and that I only needed to compete with my own ambition.
While I was fortunate to receive this type of consistent affirmation both at home and school, I know so many children who do not. This is why we need more master teachers—teachers who are culturally competent, believe in authentic relationships and experiences with their students, and who acknowledge inequity, but equip their students to rise above adversity. Students who teach from a lens of truth. Who answer the “why?” and affirm the “why not.”
In my life, I have tried to encourage many professionals of color to “take up the veil” and join me in the teaching force. Some have come willingly, others not so much. Many believe themselves ill-equipped to handle the challenges that exist in a classroom on a daily basis. My retort is always, “If you see a problem, become a part of the solution,” because the reality is those who can do many things make the best teachers; and our children deserve nothing but the best. The call for more teachers of color is paramount. Nationally, African Americans make up only 7% of the teaching force. According to a 2019 study published by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “Because of the scarcity of teachers of color across the state, 86% of all Wisconsin schools do not have any African American teachers and 83% do not have any Latinx teachers” (UW-Milwaukee, 2019).
In the early days of teaching, many of the first African American college graduates were those teaching out of necessity. It was not uncommon to have a teacher who was classically trained in linguistics teaching at an elementary school, especially in Milwaukee, where Black teachers were for many years restricted to only teaching at 4th Street School (now known as Golda Meir School). For many years Black instructors were not thought to be able to teach students at the high school level (a policy that was quietly changed by former Superintendent Harold Vincent).
So, this Black History Month, I choose to salute some of the African American master teachers that reaffirmed my intelligence, my Blackness, and demanded nothing shy of excellence. Dr. Clinton Bristow, Jr., Ms. Thelma Chancellor, Dr. J. Janice Coleman, Mrs. Edna Green, Dr. Dickson Idusuyi, Ms. Annie K. Jones, Dr. Lillie Jones, Ms. Marqurite McCurdy, Mrs. Tammy Porter, Dr. Josephine Posey, Mrs. Bernyce Rivers, Dr. Lottie Smith, Ms. Marilyn Stewart, Ms. Rosalyn Washington, Mr. James White, Mrs. Tressie Williams, Dr. Kenneth H. Williams, and Mr. Douglas Yarn, thank you for pouring into me.
Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(Lied about the world, lied about me)
That you have ended by imposing on me
An image of myself.
Underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That s the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
And I know myself as well.
~ Caliban, in Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest