Monday, February 19, 2001

Volunteers bring voice to black history lessons

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Special section
        It's one thing to teach children about black history. It quite another to make them realize they can be a part of it. That's the mission behind the efforts of dozens of black males volunteering their time in Tristate schools, churches and community centers.

        It's part of an effort to expose students in all grades and of all races to positive black male role models, especially when the students are young.

The Rev. Anthony Collier serves as volunteer and role model at Rockdale School in Avondale.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        As the Tristate celebrates Black History Month, these pastors, parents and businessmen who volunteer their time are putting out the call for others to do the same.

        The Rev. Anthony Collier, pastor at Phillips Chapel CME Church in the East End, volunteers at two schools and teaches music appreciation at a third.

        “Being a pastor, when the students know I'm in the building or the hall, I get that extra respect,” the Rev. Mr. Collier said. “That's why I challenge the younger pastors to go to the schools.”

        The Rev. Mr. Collier volunteers at the East End Community Heritage School, near his church, and at Rockdale Academy, where he attended classes as a child. He teaches at Landmark Christian, where he graduated high school.

        At all three schools, he aims to act as a friend and mentor to students.

        Dawn Crook, Rockdale's principal, said the work of the Rev. Mr. Collier and people like Marcus Lewis — who is working to bring more fathers into the school — is invaluable.

        “Many of the students are from fatherless homes and when it comes to hormonal changes and boys wanting to be men, we definitely need more men to talk to them,” Ms. Crook said.

        Teachers say volunteers help keep students in school by talking to them about how important an education can be. The Rev. Mr. Collier constantly tells students they need an education if they want to get a job that pays them enough so they can live in their own apartment and buy the music and clothes they like.

        Educators hope such examples lower the district's dropout rate, which reaches 50 percent in some high schools.

        The need for more positive male role models, particularly African-American males, continues to grow as more students live in divorced or single-parent homes, said John Bryant, executive director of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, a group that supports Cincinnati students by providing help in academics, getting to college, social skills and work skills.

        “Throughout society, being able to see persons who look like you in terms of gender and ethnicity is a very positive thing,” Mr. Bryant said. "It lets one know that all elements of society are open and one can aspire to these kinds of positive things.”

A call to males

               There are 1,500 students in the CYC's mentoring program. An additional 200 students are served through group mentoring and tutoring sessions.

        Yet up to 500 students are waiting to be paired with an adult mentor, where the greatest need is for males.

        “We need to have more males in general and we also need more African-American males to more fully represent males and African-American males in significant positions,” Mr. Bryant said. “And teacher is a significant position.”

  African-American men make up 4.6 percent of all Cincinnati Public Schools teachers. (The African- American student population is 71.2 percent.) Here's the breakdown by race and sex:
  Male teachers
  • White: 168
  • Black: 56
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 1
  • Asian: 0
  • Multiracial: 2
  Female teachers
  • White: 1,018
  Black: 461
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 1
  • Asian: 19
  • Hispanic: 29
  • Multiracial: 1
  Male teachers
  • White: 256
  • Black: 63
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 3
  • Asian: 3
  • Hispanic: 1
  • Multiracial: 0
  Female teachers
  • White: 328
  • Black: 170
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 1
  • Asian: 7
  • Hispanic: 3
  • Multiracial: 2
  Total: 2,593
        In Cincinnati Public Schools, 4.6 percent of teachers are black men, compared with 1 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Black women make up 24.3 percent of the district's teachers.

        Cincinnati Public Schools' African-American student population is 71.2 percent.

        The district is stepping up efforts to recruit more minority teachers, including job fairs and special recruiting trips to colleges. The district also encourages students to become teachers through a special high-school program at Hughes Center.

        Nationally, there are programs to help put more black men at the front of the classroom. In South Carolina, the “Call Me Mister” program pairs Clemson University and four black state colleges to begin recruiting prospective teachers in high school.

        At Rockdale, African-American male volunteers form friendships with students and help reduce discipline problems.

        The Rev. Mr. Collier spends up to 10 hours each week there, patrolling hallways, visiting classrooms and spending time in the cafeteria.

        “He talks to me about school and being on my best behavior,” said sixth-grader Kiarah Love. “And he's good at math.”

        Students talk to the Rev. Mr. Collier about problems at home, and how to handle difficult situations.

        “I'm just trying to help the kids keep their morale up and boosted, but it's a task,” the Rev. Mr. Collier said. “They don't have a lot of that at home. I want to say to them, "I'm here for you.'”

        He knows how much students need to hear someone tell them they can accomplish their goals, even though it might be tough attaining them.

        When he caught seventh-grader Lakesha Boyce arriving at school late, he wanted an explanation.

        “Hey lady, why are you late?” the Rev. Mr. Collier asked as she walked toward the school office.

        When Lakesha said she woke up late, Rev. Mr. Collier offered some advice.

        “You've got to go to bed earlier, like 8:30, not 10,” he said.

        When necessary, the Rev. Mr. Collier and other volunteers work on “discipline contracts” with students.

        He extracts promises of good behavior in exchange for incentives. Then he checks up on students to make sure they hold up their end of the bargain.

        “If we can halt a lot of the discipline problems before they get to the principal,” the Rev. Mr. Collier said, “we can help the teachers and break a lot of the headaches.”


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