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Keep That Same Energy by Paul Willis

Enjoy this stand-out entry from the January JBT essay contest.

Prompt: Why are Black male educators important?

I never truly knew myself until I saw how my students responded to me. I'm the rose from the concrete who grew into the gardener. That context of Sankofa is fundamental to my motivation and purpose. I could see in the reflection of my students eyes that they knew they could count on me to be THAT teacher. Not cool because I could rap, play basketball, and teach math skills, but because I would show up for the morning high five, lunchroom snack exchange, and the championship game after school. And I was Black, disproving many stereotypes and statistics about Black men in education.

When I broke my leg in elementary school, my only Black teacher showed up for me every day when I was in a cast to ensure I didn't fall behind. I could never pay that back so I pay it forward. Now when a kid gets kicked out of class, they get sent to me instead of suspended and sent home. When a child wants to choose a book in the library, they now have Black protagonists to choose from because of the grant money and sponsors I brought to upgrade our school's collection. When the basketball team needs a substitute coach on the sidelines or a mentor on campus, I'm right there. Reminding them that their Blackness is free to make mistakes, to take on challenges, to explore and to express their pride. Nurturing their Black identity is not radical to me; it's my norm.

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