SCHOOLS | November 17, 2021
Invisible. That’s one of the words that came to mind when members of the district’s Business and Information Technology (BIT) Cluster within the Department of Career and Technical Education (CTE) sat down last year to discuss how to better support men of color—both teachers and students. Ms. Shadia Daniels, Manager, and Dr. Nadine Leblanc, Instructional Support Specialist, agreed that Black male teachers were underrepresented in both professional development and coaching opportunities. If they weren’t engaged in building their leadership capacity, would they be able to effectively mentor their students, especially young Black and Brown men?
After consulting with Black male educators specifically within the department’s Information Technology (IT) Pathway and conversing with Allen Turner, a Black game design professor at DePaul University, a new CTE initiative was born—When Black Men Teach. The program has since expanded to become When Black and Brown Men Teach.
“We determined that if we were strategic in engaging the voices of our Black male teachers, we could tap into that to help them reach their students,” said Leblanc. “Because this is a group that is often marginalized, we agreed that we weren’t going to take a deficit-based approach or act punitively just to get a desired outcome.”
The program officially kicked off in February during Black History Month with an event called Flip the Script. This event engaged more than 50 CPS students in developing soft skills through workshops, Q&A sessions, and panel discussions with Black male professionals. Students left the event feeling empowered, confident, and, most of all, seen.
This school year, with the commitment to increasing leadership capacity as planned, the program’s impact has continued under the leadership of one of the district’s IT teachers. Mr. Robert Lee has been teaching at Michele Clark Magnet High School for the past three years and has been an instrumental part of the When Black and Brown Men Teach program.
“What is really inspiring to me about this program is the push to get our guys engaged and help them learn things that they might not otherwise learn,” said Mr. Lee. “I’m a product of CPS as well, and I want to make sure that they have opportunities I didn’t have such as mentorship, especially because they’re at the stage where life is about to get real really fast.”
One of the highlights of the program so far has been the Flip the Script internship, an eight-week summer program that allowed students to continue building soft skills and work directly with Mr. Lee and visiting teacher Ms. Teriah Abrams from Mather High School to earn an industry certification in business communication. While the certification typically takes 120 hours of coursework to complete, the determination of students like Cantrell allowed them to earn it on an accelerated timeline.
“I’ll be honest, the test was a little difficult at first, but, once I passed and got the certification, I just felt this rush of exhilaration,” said Cantrell. “When Mr. Lee told me that I got a certification that most people in CPS don’t have, I felt so empowered. And if I can get that in high school, and I keep with it and keep going, imagine what else I can accomplish.”
As the program approaches its one-year anniversary, conversations have begun about what version 2.0 of the program will look like. A few things are certain: mentorship will continue to be one of its core values, and Mr. Lee along with the other six men of color who are a part of the program will play a big role in helping its participants become successful. Dr. Leblanc and her team will leverage the initial success of the program to access funding, align with strategic partners, and develop a robust curriculum focused on workforce readiness to ensure continuous qualitative and quantitative success.
“I think the most important thing for me is continuing to see the kids grow. We have star athletes in the program whose schedules are probably busier than mine, and yet they continue to come and show me love every day and check in to see if I need anything,” said Mr. Lee. “They know that I’ll always be here to support them, and we’re going to make it happen one way or another.”