MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Walk into most classrooms in Memphis and you’ll see a pattern.
“It’s something powerful about having a 12 to a 13-year experience in a space where they’re teaching and talking about everybody belonging and I can go through that whole system and not realize I was really absent,” said Dr. Patrick Washington, the principal of Promise Academy Spring Hill.
Dr. Washington is also the founder of Man Up, a non-profit aimed at increasing the number of Black male teachers in schools.
“If the Grizzlies were 75% white or the Titans were 75% white, that would be a discussion," he said.
“We know there are studies out there to show," said Washington. "Kids finishing high school, graduation rates, crime in the community, those things are not disconnected. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Studies show education and crime are closely connected.
“The fact that we’re able to put more Black men in front of these Black boys in particular or students we will see over time I believe a difference in the community," he said. "That’s the ultimate vision of the work.”
Currently, less than 2% of teachers are men of color in the U.S.
It's a reality Dr. Washington explained is caused by low pay, low career status, and fear of false accusations.
“If I’m being completely honest, there was a time where I was ready to walk away from the profession to find something else," shared teacher Hashim Jones. "I heard Dr. Washington talk and it made me feel relevant. It made me, as a black male teacher, feel important.”
Jones teaches 4th and 5th-grade science at Promise Academy.
After joining Man Up, Jones was able to share both frustrations and joys of the profession.
“Kids coming into your classroom 2-3 years behind in Math or Reading," said Jones. "Sometimes as a Black male teacher, you’re automatically placed as a disciplinarian for the school.”
Jones, in his second year as a Man Up fellow, said he was inspired to teach after seeing kids fall through the education system.
“I was lucky enough to have a job working as a juvenile detention counselor where I saw children through the ages of 13-18 who were illiterate," said Jones. "They could not read they could not write very well at all. I knew I wanted to do something and I didn’t want to wait until they got into that situation.”
He's now providing mentorship to kids at his former elementary school.
“Every day you can see it on their faces," said Jones. "Especially on the days you may miss. They come back and say, ‘Why weren’t you here?’ They’re almost dependent on you as stability in their life.”
Man Up offers $20,000 per fellow with a 5-year commitment to teach.
Its fifth class of fellows will have a signing ceremony Saturday at noon at Loflin Yard.