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5 Black Thought Leaders on The Impact of Black Teachers (and More!)

From Amanda Seales to W. Kamau Bell, these public figures share why supporting Black teachers is a crucial part of Black History Month.


We asked, they answered! These Black philanthropists, celebrities, and thought leaders are talking about the importance of supporting public school teachers and the impact that Black teachers and Black history have had on their lives.

Who are these 5 amazing leaders?

Why do you support public school education? 

Sharif El-Mekki: Public education is an integral part of democratic ideals, an educated citizenry is safer, less racist, and enables and empowers. Chief Seattle once noted that the next generation doesn’t inherit the earth from us, we borrow it from them. To return it to them justly, we must provide the education that will prepare them to receive what we’ve borrowed.

Dr. Travis Bristol: Strong public institutions are the bedrock of a thriving democracy. Our public schools have the potential to help us learn about our unique histories, in service of forming that elusive more perfect union. 

Amanda Seales: I support public school education because it is the most equitable method to providing the much needed educational resources that all children need and deserve!

W. Kamau Bell: I have been lucky to know many teachers in my life. Not just teachers who taught me in school, but I have had many teachers as friends. Every teacher that I’ve known has at some point reached into their own pocket in order to find money to provide necessary resources for their students. And the less funded the school is, the more times the teachers have to reach into their pockets. I support public education, because not only should we pay teachers more, but equally importantly, we should also let them keep the money that we pay them.

What's your favorite piece of Black history? 

Sharif El-Mekki: My favorite piece of Black history has always been centered on educators and youth activists. Their love for humanity, and their creativity and courage in the pursuit of equity and justice inspires me to no end.

Dr. Travis Bristol: The hope that one day Black History will become American History. 

Amanda Seales: My favorite part of Black History is the unearthing of hidden figures in our history. Learning about unsung heroes of our people and culture"

W. Kamau Bell: I love that Black History Month began as Black History week. I love that Black people must have said, “We’re going to need the whole month.”

Did you have a Black teacher in school? If so, what impact did they have on your learning and your life?

Carol Sutton Lewis: I was very fortunate to have several Black teachers over the course of my K-12 public school education.  One of my favorites was Mrs. Portia Paterson, my third grade teacher.  I was placed into her classroom several weeks after the school year began, as I was moved up from second to third grade when it was determined that the third grade work would be more appropriately challenging for me.  Joining the grade weeks after school began and being younger than all of my classmates could have made for a difficult year.  But Mrs. Paterson welcomed me, encouraged the rest of the class to do so as well, and made sure that I felt comfortable in class and with the work.  She was kind, supportive and a great teacher, whom I’ve had the pleasure of staying in touch with over the years. 

Sharif El-Mekki: My Black teachers, including and especially my mother and my PK-6 grade teachers were numerous and they emphasized community, love, and servant leadership. The example that they set as they started and led schools, taught with racial and educational justice in mind and actions, and their unwavering belief in collective responsibility and accountability helped me choose teaching as the form of activism I wanted to live by. Their heart work is imprinted in me and at a young age I vowed to be a part of the community that lifted as they climbed to serve others. I’m forever grateful to be able to honor my teachers through my work.

Dr. Travis Bristol: From PK - 6th grade I attended an Afrocentric school in Brooklyn, New York. All of my teachers were Black. One teacher, Ms. Marshall, stands out. In the first grade Ms. Marshall introduced me to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Crispus Attucks. In the first grade I wrote letters to the South African government to free Nelson Mandela. 

Amanda Seales: Yes, several. Many of them made sure to highlight perspectives that are typically overlooked by white teachers which gave a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of history. They also understood the cultural nuances of being a Black child in America and went above and beyond to protect us. 

W. Kamau Bell: I think the only Black teacher I had in high school was my Black History teacher. I’m pretty sure she didn’t teach any other classes at the school. And while I’m happy they didn’t assign that class to an unqualified white teacher, I also know my school needed more Black teachers.

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