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Men of Color Throughout the City Year Network Meet in Philadelphia for Annual EdFest Conference

Of all the educators nationwide, whether it be elementary, middle, high school, or university, Black males only represent 2% of the population. To zoom the lens a little more local, in Philadelphia only 4% of all teachers are Black men while over 70% of teachers are white. This, with a student population that is represented as 50% Black and 27% Black males. A Johns Hopkins University study found that Black students who had just one Black teacher by 3rd grade were 13 % more likely to enroll in college, while those who had two Black teachers were 32% more likely. A low-income Black student’s probability of dropping out of school is reduced by 29% if he or she has one Black teacher in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grades. That student is also 18% more likely to express interest in college after graduating.

  Darryl Bundrige, Executive Director at City Year Philadelphia, says, “These statistics of Black male educators, compared to the Black students within the school system, are very disproportionate. There should be some action taken to reconcile these numbers.” 

 Action is what we did. We started the conversation. 

 October 18 and 19, Black Male Educators Convening for Social Justice (BMEC) hosted their annual EdFest conference here in Philadelphia. The organization is a professional membership and activist group dedicated to the recruitment, development, and retention of Black male educators in schools throughout Greater Philadelphia. The conference serves as a platform dedicated to highlighting the incredible work being done by and for Black male educators throughout the country. The event is open to anyone and allows for individuals to learn about opportunities within youth development if education is a career path of interest. If it isn’t, the opportunities and resources are still proven to be valuable.  

 This year’s theme was ‘Education for The Culture,’ reaffirming the reality that teachers have always been the original influencers and that in order to advance the recruitment, development, and retention of Black male educators in schools, community-focused education must be the primary driver of change.  

Some of this year’s speakers included Yusef Salaam, Jamira Burley, Stefon Bristol, Duanecia Evans, Clint Smith, and a keynote discussion titled ‘Ubuntu: Building Community and Pathways into Education’, moderated by our own Executive Director, Darryl Bundrige. 

City Year Philadelphia was proud to gather 60 men of color, comprised of City Year staff and AmeriCorps members from throughout City Year’s national network, in the City of Brotherly Love to attend this year’s conference. To kick off the weekend, City Year Philly proudly hosted its own pre-conference for EdFest bringing together City Year men of color to build community, share experiences, generate support, and to recognize the importance that their role as men of color plays in their work, schools, and communities.  

“I think it’s powerful to begin this dialogue. We hope to continue these conversations during the year and build a network throughout all sites that will allow a space for men of color to connect. This may lead to greater retention, recruitment, and stronger voices,” said Darryl Bundrige, in response to a question about what it means for City Year Philly to host this event.  

When asked about how it felt to be in Philadelphia for City Year’s pre-conference event, Matthew Catson, Learning and AmeriCorps Experience Manager at City Year Little Rock, shared, “It’s a bit surreal. I do learning and development in my day job which means I lead learning days, service days, and LACY (Life After City Year) related activities. But to do this for staff members is an awesome experience. To be a part of the learning and to co-learn with my cohort of managers and recruiters is amazing. All the answers to our issues are in this room and within everyone’s insights.” 

During the pre-conference gathering, attendees reflected on the importance of Black male educators. “The importance resides in representation and the potential of cultural similarity. Only 2% of all educators — whether its K-12 or college — are black men. There’s more than 2% of students who are Black males,” said Stephen Tyson, Impact Director at City Year Philadelphia. He also feels like there’s an opportunity for more engagement and activity when it comes to the academic work that is being presented. “When it comes to career ambitions and future, having young students feel like they can be represented by their instructor plays a difference as well.”  

Throughout the day, these and other great discussions took place. Topics ranged from the recruitment of Black male AmeriCorps members to tips on navigating the workplace as a man of color.  Within these discussions, a common theme heard throughout the day was that many hadn’t had a strong presence of Black male educators in their schools growing up. Matthew Catson said, “I grew up in Mississippi Delta and went to Senatobia High School. If you know, you know that nothing is there but casinos and cotton fields. Throughout my schooling I only had two black male educators, those being a teacher, Mr. Wilson, in 5th grade and a professor during my freshman year of college. However, I’ve had the pleasure of having a few Black male mentors who played a huge role in my life. I would not be the man that I am today without the mentorship of my brother, uncles, and father. They taught me that being a man is not about holding your emotions but taking care of those around you.”  

With Black male educators not being present in many schools that participants attended growing up, the discussion shifted to the importance of Black male mentors. “Black male mentors were very important, my father being one of them even though he is more than a mentor to me. He is a role model and someone that I honestly look up to,” shared Kendall Lindsey, first-year Team Leader at City Year Detroit. He goes on to say, “I was also in a mentorship program during my senior year of high school where I learned different life skills. The program was led by a Black male. I think it is very important to have Black male mentors because the way that the media depicts us is often in a negative manner and takes away our human aspects. So, I believe that Black male mentorship is of the utmost importance in our community.” 

It’s worth noting that City Year AmeriCorps members serve as mentors to students as well. When asked about the importance his role as a Black male ACM plays in his school community Kendall Lindey said, “ In a school that has only about 5 Black males serving and/or educating students, including myself, with a population that is 97% Black, I feel as though I play a big role in the school community. My presence is very helpful, especially for the young Black men, because I am someone close in age that they can relate to. In some instances, I may provide a sense of comfort.”  

With the pre-conference wrapping up and EdFest on the horizon, there was growing excitement among City Year’s men of color who traveled to Philly for the event. Latrell Bradshaw, Team Leader serving with City Year Detroit said, “This is my second time here in Philly. I was here for last year’s conference so I knew that it would be worth the trip again. I’m excited to hear from the speakers this year and maybe a little more excited to get my hands on a Philly cheesesteak.” 

By the end of the weekend, both EdFest and City Year’s pre-conference event proved to be a highly valuable space. Both brought together men of color to have insightful dialogue and highlighted the impactful work that educators of color are doing in their field. Zachary Pennix, City Year Philly Team Leader at Alexander McClure Elementary said, “When this many men of color come together, it’s a sign that change is on the horizon. There’s so much community and love in the air. Just positivity and Black professionalism. The opportunity to be around this many men of color at City Year is one that we don’t get often. This experience was extremely important to me personally.” 

If you are interested in serving with City Year Philadelphia and recognize the role that you could play in impacting the lives of youth throughout the city, click here to apply now. City Year Philadelphia provides an inclusive environment for all people and we hope to provide an essential experience that will help pipeline not only future educators but leaders of tomorrow.

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