In order to make the world a better place, one must push the envelope on what society wants you to do. As an educator, it is my job to not only educate my students but to help them blaze a path to a better life. I believe the students I come in contact with are destined to be great and as a black educator, I stand on the shoulders of giants. In honor of black history and black educators, here are my top 10 black educators:
1. Pulpit to the Classroom: Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne was born a free man in Charleston, South Carolina. Payne became the premier minister of the AME Church. While at the church, he worked not only as a minister but also as a teacher. It was his vision and dedication which led to the founding of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Wilberforce University was the first black-owned institution for higher learning in the United States.
2. Father of Education Reform: Booker T. Washington is considered by many scholars as the first education reformer in the United States. He was born into slavery, freed and raised in the Reconstruction South, and active in educational reform through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Washington sought to use education to bridge the nation’s racial divide. In partnership with Julius Rosenwald, Booker T Washington helped create the Rosenwald Schools which addressed the chronic underfunding of schools for black children.
3. New School Education Reformer: Born and raised in Harlem New York, Geoffrey Canada always wanted to educate the children of Harlem. He led the charge to develop and create the Harlem Children Zone which has not only changed education, but it brought together the community and the school to drastically impact the socioeconomic status of black people.
4. Hollywood Principal: “This is an institution of learning, ladies and gentlemen. If you can’t control it, how can you teach? Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.” This is one of my favorite lines from the movie Lean on Me about the story of reform principal Joe Clark of Eastside High. Clark is famous for his no-nonsense approach to turn around one of the worst schools in America.
5. My President: Barack Obama was not just the first black President of the United States, but he was also concerned about education. Obama once said, “The status quo is morally inexcusable.” President Obama challenged people to roll up their sleeves and aid in the fight to improve the quality of education in America. America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters. His program such as Race to The Top and ESSA was committed changing the educational landscape in America.
6. School Board Champion: Mary Church Terrell is one of the original educators in this country. She became the first black woman to ever be appointed to a school board. She is the trailblazer for black women who fought to be educated in this country. Mary Church Terrell knew the only way to get anywhere is to be educated. Terrell was very active in the Washington, DC area. She served on the Columbia School Board from 1985-1911. It was during her time on the school board she fought for equality in the city’s segregated school system.
7. First Female PhD in Mathematics: Euphemia Lofton Haynes was born and raised in Washington, DC. Over the course of her life, she left her stamp in the realm of academics and education. In 1943, she became the first black woman to earn a PhD in mathematics. She is one of the original teacher trainers. In 1930, when Haynes earned her master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago, she went back to DC to found the math department at Miner Teachers College. The focus was to train black teachers.
8. Trailblazer for Black Women: Dr. Jeanne Noble believed in highlighting the great work of black women. In 1978, she wrote her book Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters: A History of the Black Woman in America to honor the black women of this country and highlight their importance on society. The book is a collection of tales about black woman and their place in history. Dr. Noble spent her career in higher education working alongside three different presidents of the United States. President Lyndon B Johnson in 1964 asked Noble to help with the Women’s Job Corp. This program was used in the War on Poverty.
9. Civil Rights Activist for Education: Marva Collins was an influential teacher and activist for education in the 20th century. She worked tirelessly to gain equal rights in education for black students. Collins began her career as a substitute teacher in Chicago and worked there for fourteen years. After working she cashed in her pension and then open her own school Westside Preparatory School in 1975. Her teaching method, known as the Marva Collins Method, was chronicled in her 1989 book, The Marva Collins Method: A Manual for Educating and Motivating Your Child. Collins believed, “Kids don’t fail, teachers fail, school system fail. The people who teach children that they are failures – they are the problem”
10. A Teacher Champion for us All: It was a Ted Talk that motivated me and the entire world. Rita Pierson was a heartfelt, funny, passionate educator who inspired the entire educational community with her simple message that every child, rich or poor, deserved a champion. She was a passionate educator who taught kids for over forty years and believed in the power of human connection. Pierson truly believed in every child. “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possible be.”