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Group strives for more minority male teachers

Two graduates of Prince Edward High School were recently part of a five-student panel leading an online book read and discussion focusing on race in American education sponsored by Longwood University.

Kenneth Hicks, who graduated from Prince Edward High in 2007, and Da’Ron Harvey who graduated in 2012, are both active in the university’s Call Me MISTER program, an initiative that aims to address the critical shortage of young men entering careers in teaching.

The February 15 virtual event featured a discussion led by Call Me MISTER (CMM) participants that was based upon excerpted passages from Scholarship Boy, a 2020 memoir by Larry I. Palmer. Palmer also participated in the event, which drew virtual attendees from the Longwood community, Prince Edward County and from school divisions throughout Virginia. In the book, Palmer traces his educational path from his elementary years in segregated St. Louis to Harvard and Yale for his undergraduate and law degrees, a path made possible by a scholarship he received to attend secondary school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1958.

Palmer, a retired law professor at Cornell University and the College of William & Mary and a current member of Longwood’s Board of Visitors, has engaged the young men in Call Me MISTER on previous occasions, having been a featured speaker in their 2020 Summer Institute.

In the recent event, the young men read passages from Palmer’s book and posed questions relating to the impacts of teachers in the development of racial identity for minority males and how he experienced W.E.B. DuBois’ ideas of a “double consciousness” as a minority male attending predominantly white institutions for much of his schooling. The discussion, along with the participation of the Call Me MISTER students, provided a connection between the historical reflections framed in Palmer’s book and the contemporary education of young men of color in America.

The event was part of a spring 2021 campaign to establish a new scholarship fund to provide additional financial support for Call Me MISTER participants, enabling the program to recruit more young men who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of Virginia’s K-12 school populations. The Longwood chapter of Call Me MISTER, which was established in 2007, supports young men interested in being role models for K-12 students through their careers as classroom teachers. There are currently nearly 20 teacher candidates involved in the program at Longwood, and they are known on campus simply as MISTERS. They represent a range of majors, with both Hicks and Harvey focusing their studies on elementary education. The 2021 fund-raising drive aims to establish an endowed scholarship to encourage additional participation in Call Me MISTER among students considering any of Longwood’s teacher preparation paths.

Call Me MISTER aims to prepare these MISTERS for impactful careers as elementary, middle, or high school teachers, providing resources and support that move them toward successfully securing positions in classrooms where they will positively influence the lives of their students. According to Dr. Maurice Carter, the director of the program at Longwood, recent national events relating to social justice and racial equity have brought into sharper focus the necessity of expanding dialogues relating to race and ethnicity in education.

“Longwood’s Call Me MISTER participants are uniquely positioned and capable of engaging in this dialogue. Many of these young men have looked at their own educational experiences and recognized the virtual absence of male teachers, particularly at the early grades,” according to Carter. “It is at these grade levels that the importance of male role models is highest, particularly in minority communities.”

Harvey, who is in his second year at Longwood after completing an associate’s degree at Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), took a great deal from the evening discussion. He also offered his views on the impact of Call Me MISTER on his career path, “For me, it has been important to surround myself with mentors who have allowed me to grow into me and what I am becoming, and not what I was.”

Hicks, who completed his bachelor’s degree in December, added that, “Mr. Palmer invited us to think about the cultural expectations of our family/home/ethnic communities as we enter classroom environments with quite different contexts. He encouraged his audience to engage in the concept of double consciousness to get a better understanding of his journey and ideas about race.”

Information on the Call Me MISTER program and the CMM Endowed Scholarship is available by contacting Carter at (434) 395-2663 or cartermd@longwood.edu. Links to the recording of the Feb. 15 event with Palmer can also be found at the Call Me MISTER webpage at www.longwood.edu/callmemister.