Cornell Ellis’ goal is to eventually shake hands with every single Black male educator in the Kansas City metro area and let them know there is an organization specifically to support them in their teaching career.
Ellis, who started his teaching career at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School six years ago and now teaches African-American history part-time at DeLaSalle Education Center, estimates there are not more than 300 Black male educators in the area. He’s already engaged with most of them through a nonprofit he created with the help of seven other Black male educators called Brothers Liberating Our Communities (BLOC).
“Liberating our community comes through increasing the number of Black male educators in schools, because the impact that we have on our kids, our communities and our school systems is undeniable,” Ellis said.
Since 2017, BLOC has focused on retaining Black male educators by connecting them to each other, strengthening their teaching and professional skills, and engaging them with the local community, which Ellis said is the full formula for retaining Black male educators.
The organization isn’t particularly focused on recruiting more Black males teachers but on maintaining the ones currently in the classroom.
“We believe the best teachers for Kansas City are sitting in seats right now,” Ellis said. “I teach a class every day. That’s my recruitment.”
While the organization may not be recruiting, research continues to support the positive benefits of having Black teachers — both male and female — in the classroom. A 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics found Black students who have a Black teacher for at least one year in elementary school, are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider college.
According to the Stanford Graduate School of Education, less than 2% of the nation’s teachers are Black men. About 80% of teachers nationally are White and more than 70% are White women. In Missouri, only about 1% of teachers are Black men.
According to Ellis, the absence of Black males in the classroom furthers the absence of Black role models, especially in young Black boys’ lives.
“So many of these young Black boys are growing up without that [Black male] voice from the very beginning of their lives,” Ellis said.
According to the Urban Education Research Center and the Latinx Education Collaborative, one third of Kansas City schools do not have a teacher of color in their building and turnover rates for teachers of color are high nationally and locally.
One of the biggest reasons Ellis and other teachers of color see low retention rates is the lack of in and out of school support and mentoring, something he strives to provide for local Black male educators through BLOC.
Julian Marshall joined BLOC as content moderator just before he left a teaching position at a local school after witnessing some racist incidents. He’s currently teaching at a different school that he loves, and he credits BLOC for helping him make that connection. BLOC mentors provided Marshall with advice for how to have effective communication in White spaces and deal with racism in the workplace.
“We help Black male teachers have conversations with a mentor about how to deal with racial aggressions and oppressions in their school building and show you that you aren’t crazy. We’ll break down why it was racist and how you should respond,” Ellis said.
“I honestly don’t think I’d still be in education or at least in a classroom without BLOC,” Marshall said. “I don’t know if I would have had the tools to make it through some of the tougher moments in my early career that were difficult to navigate both personally and professionally.
Ellis said it is important for more schools to make an effort to diversify their staff. He also suggests schools invite Black men to host programming as a way to expose students to more people of color.
BLOC has an event every fourth Thursday of the month that alternates between professional development and socializing. The next event on Oct. 8 is a socializing event called “Two Stepping Into the Second Quarter,” where Black teachers are invited to socialize and dance. The event will take place at 7470 Nieman Rd, Shawnee, KS from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Register for the free event here:https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bloc-presents-stepping-in-2nd-quarter-tickets-187793002927?ref=eios#map-target.
The next professional development event is Nov. 18 and will guide Black male educators on how they can “make education lucrative” by using educational talents to make residual income and live comfortably as a teacher.
BLOC is also planning an annual State of Black Education conference next spring for Black students, parents and teachers to come together and analyze local metrics like graduation rates, test scores and reading levels and talk about action plans to improve that data.