I heard this story on All Things Considered on NPR while driving around running errands one afternoon recently (June 30th to be precise). What made it especially interesting is that it described many of the young men (and women) I teach. The story profiled a teacher training program at Clemson University called “Call Me Mister” that prepares young black male teachers to become mentors and role models to their students, something that experts, according to the story, say is “crucial to the success of black boys.”
Many of the mentors in training for this program share similar backgrounds with the students they work with. This, of course, is what makes them ideal role models in that if they can persevere, then their students (hopefully) can too. One of the interviewees in the story teaches at a school where 86 percent of the students receive a free or reduced price lunch. My school is not too far off from that figure and I’ve heard similar stories of hardship from my students that some of the mentors relate. While I don’t share the same background as the either the mentors or their students, what I took away from the story (besides the gratitude and admiration I have for these good people) is what one of the mentors said that what their students mainly need is for someone to desperately care about their struggles and if one can do that by showing love and respect then one’s background is beside the point. A transcript of the story can be found at http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=327058449. If you want to hear the actual audio version of the story simply click the title (A Role Model Pipeline For Young Black Men) and then click “Listen to the Story”.