When we think of equity in education our minds automatically go to Brown v. Board of Education. The desegregation of schools was indeed a valid and necessary outcome of decades of inequality for the African American student. But equal access and equal opportunity aren’t the only inequities that limit and confine the African American experience in Michigan education. There is another.

This problem has plagued the African American community for years but has now come to a community near you! And, if we don’t address this twenty first century challenge, it will very soon become so monumental that to address it will take at least a decade. If not addressed expeditiously, it will eventually be beyond amendment for several generations. It is cutting education at its core, not simply for the African American, but for Latino Americans, Arab Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color!

Schedule a visit and get a glimpse inside the average Michigan school. The classrooms are inundated with students of color and if you look closer, you will notice the absence of teachers of color.

The student’s experiences are as diverse as our nation, still they come to school from homes that are uniquely individual. They may share the same ethnicity and community but their experiences are exclusive to them. Yet, the people they respect, the ones that they know love them and truly care that they succeed, those who have a vested interest in their survival, and those they are used to obeying, are absent from their day. These educators have been eliminated from their process and thereby, their progress. Again, they come to school every day… for years…yet they cannot read, write, or do mathematics. It’s a travesty! Learning to read can be measured in hours, yet years have gone by and the process has eluded them. Why? What is it about them that makes modest tasks so difficult? It is simple. If you don’t like them, mistreat them, or make them feel unwelcome, they won’t learn from you!

Connect with them, first. Children of color are very astute at reading adults. If you think they don’t understand sarcasm, feel distance and barriers, or recognize fear and disdain, think again. That being said, they also listen to the news, overhear conversations and social opinions at home, and are left to synthesize these thoughts on their own. Then they go to school. The words and actions of their teachers and other adults either eradicate or confirm these thoughts. In most cases, whether inadvertently or purposefully, they are confirmed.

Where are the teachers of color? They are few and far between.

The state of education has diminished the number of ethnic people who believe teaching to still be a viable profession. The pay was always low in comparison to others fields requiring the same level of education, but today’s teacher can almost be named among the working poor even though they are among the most educated. They have been forced to abandon what they feel is real teaching for the mandates of others. They have received evaluations from people who have never taught, and endured criticism from those who are impressed by bells and whistles and know little, if anything, of true pedagogy. They have taken their exceptional education and gone elsewhere or if possible, home. Our students need them. They weren’t motivated by the pay. They didn’t risk the elements for fame. They didn’t endure to repay student loans. They came because they loved the kids and they loved teaching. We need them back!

Who will make the true commitment to educate our children? It is not an easy task. Many decades of educational neglect have taken its toll. The work is hard. But, it is rewarding and the children are worth both the extra effort and greater level of commitment.

Teachers of color arise! You are so desperately needed. You know our children. You know their struggle. You have been there. You connect with them. Are you the only ones who can educate our children? Certainly not. Any teacher who has the heart to connect, can. Let’s join forces and eradicate illiteracy and achievement gaps together. As our civil rights icons did, let’s walk arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand with our neighbors who have taken on the challenge of educating our children.