Importance of Black male teachers drives Kansas City activist

Editor’s Note: This interview is an element of the second season of Voices of Kansas City, a undertaking created in collaboration with KKFI Community Radio to spotlight the experiences of Kansas Citians making an impression on the neighborhood. Hear the interviews at 6 p.m. Wednesdays on KKFI 90.1 FM, or at Do you already know somebody who must be featured in a future season of Voices of Kansas City? Tell us about them using this form.

When Cornell Ellis was in grade and secondary faculty he observed fairly early on that there have been only a few Black male teachers all through his academic historical past. Ellis grew up in Kansas City because the youngster of two educators, so of course schooling was at all times paramount in his childhood family. It’s not stunning that Ellis would go on to grow to be a instructor. He needed to be the male position mannequin that he had needed to see in school rooms when he was in class.

Ellis went on to discovered BLOC (Brothers Liberating Our Communities) in hopes of encouraging extra Black males to grow to be teachers, and as a assist group to maintain Black males within the schooling area. The lack of Black male teachers is a giant lacking piece to the puzzle of enhancing the inside metropolis academic system. Ellis seeks to fill within the hole by figuring out and supporting mentors he believes can higher relate to younger Black male pupil as a result of of some shared experiences. Ellis and his non-profit have already made a distinction within the lives of Black college students in Kansas City and that’s why The Star requested Ellis, a grassroots activist, to share his story on this season of Voices of Kansas City.

The Star invited Eilis to affix us within the studios of KKFI radio the place he lately spoke to J.M. Banks, The Star’s tradition and id reporter. That interview, with minor modifying for area and readability, is revealed right here in a query and reply format to share Foster’s genuine voice.

Meet Cornell Ellis

The Star: I at all times like to start out issues off by form of telling individuals how you bought to the place you’re. Why don’t you simply break down your childhood and the way you entered into your area of experience?

Ellis: Absolutely. Kansas City is my house. I believe that’s the place I’ll have to start out and finally, sometime, hopefully I’ll end someplace else. But possibly they’ll carry my bones and my ashes again right here. My mom is from right here. She got here by manner of Arkansas, by my grandmother. My father is from Saint Louis, and there by manner of Mississippi, a historian by commerce.

And so I at all times like to speak to Black individuals, particularly about how they acquired right here and, you already know, what had been their pathways to getting particularly to the north as we speak concerning the nice migration and Black individuals exiting the south. So Arkansas and Mississippi are form of the place my roots are. My grandfather, once more, on my father’s aspect, he hopped on the practice as a sharecropper, as a ten 12 months outdated, and ended up in Saint Louis and labored on the Ford manufacturing facility for 40 years.

And died signing his identify as an X.

My grandmother on my mom’s aspect from Arkansas got here to Kansas City and cleaned homes for 40 years and my mom tells the story in jest. But it’s truly an amazing instance of how as Black of us flip trauma into gold however it’s an amazing instance of the issues that we have now to observe and we have now to endure generationally to get to the place we’re.

My mom was the one individual in her household to graduate from school, not the one individual to go, however the one individual to graduate. She confirmed as much as the University of Missouri in 1972 after graduating from Paseo High School and Kansas City public faculties and so they instructed her Black ladies don’t belong in school. Go house. Of course, she continued and graduated with a level in well being sciences, and so she taught for over 30 years within the Kansas City public faculties.

And I typically speak about that as being so much of my formative experiences in schooling. I watched her be in grocery shops, and in banks, and in church buildings, and see so much of her former college students and listen to that, “Oh my God, Miss Ellis, is that you? You changed my life. If it wasn’t for your class, I wouldn’t have been doing what I’m doing.”

And these sorts of experiences as a teenager actually stick to you.

My father additionally went to University of Missouri, performed soccer after graduating from Sumner High School in Saint Louis, we’re from Fairgrounds Park in Saint Louis. Saint Louis of us find out about that space. And my mom is from Prospect ( in Kansas City). So from either side of the hood either side of the state. And he graduated with a political science diploma. The just one in his household to graduate with a school diploma.

So I come from a background of scarcely made it, second era school college students. You know, I work with so much of college students and speak to so much of individuals which can be the primary to do it of their household. I used to be fortunate to not should not should endure that. My sister can be very educated, acquired a terminal diploma in artwork, I’ve one sister, she’s six years older than me, additionally an educator. So between my father being a nonprofit chief, which is what he did after doing political science, my mom being an educator, my sister being an educator, it simply appeared to fall proper in step with me being in schooling as properly. I graduated from Rockhurst High School and went on to play soccer at Mizzou after which graduated from Avila University taking part in soccer there as properly.

I began educating. It simply form of fell in line. I noticed all my members of the family doing it and knew it was one thing that was vital. I had come to like schooling once I was in school because of historical past and determined that I needed to embark on that very same journey with college students. So I taught for about eight years on the Kauffman School after which based a pair of initiatives to start out engaged on various educators.

So I spotted that lower than 2% of educators in America are Black males, and so I based BLOC to extend the quantity of Black male educators in faculties. So it’s been a protracted journey. It’s been 5 years of being an government director and founder, and I used to be educating for nearly ten. But I actually love the work that I’m doing and wouldn’t commerce it for the world.

Growing up you had two educators as dad and mom, proper? What was your expertise round your friends who didn’t have that sort of reinforcement in direction of the pursuit of schooling?

Yes. Or the worth of schooling. Right.? I imply, it was at all times a like a predetermined vacation spot. It was school. Right. You know, you’re going you’re going to get the most effective schooling which you could as a result of that’s what helps you unlock the long run. Your information is one thing that they’ll by no means take away from you.

I regarded round, at my friends particularly. We had colleagues and we had neighborhood members that will have had that worth, however the parental piece from straight inside the house might not have at all times been current, particularly from two dad and mom as properly. Right.? I’ve actually nice mates that I take into account to be brothers that come from single father or mother households that valued schooling, however nonetheless simply weren’t the identical kind of surroundings that I used to be coming from.

My father typically took it upon himself to be just like the neighborhood dad. We typically had children over our home, choosing up children from soccer apply, driving children round, and feeding them as a result of he knew and we knew that it was vital to encompass ourselves with males that had been doing optimistic issues and create robust communities round us. And that schooling piece goes to return as a byproduct.

So speaking about the place your future is, the place you’re going, what your subsequent steps are, all come up as a byproduct of the relationships that your constructing with them, you already know.

Cornell Ellis, executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO . Friday, March 8, 2024.Cornell Ellis, executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO . Friday, March 8, 2024.

Cornell Ellis, government director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO . Friday, March 8, 2024.

With Brothers Liberating Our Community the founding of it why don’t you give me the preliminary steps of how that concept fashioned and what was it like implementing it into what we see at present?

Like I stated, it’s been a protracted journey with so much of nice individuals concerned. I’m actually glad you employ the time period co-founder as a result of it’s one thing that I couldn’t have finished alone. Through my travels as an educator I discovered a convention referred to as Amplify right here in Kansas City. Amplify is a teachers of coloration convention funded by the Kauffman Foundation and hosted there yearly.

And we’re in 12 months eight, truly, of the Amplify Conference to have the ability to assist all educators of coloration and so by that work, we actually began to only go searching and see, man there’s like no Black males round right here. So I began to do form of this nationwide seek for Black male educators. And what was the info round Black males in schooling?

I discovered some actually nice mentors in Philadelphia. So proper now it’s referred to as the Center for Black Educator Development, we went there in 2016 with 5 guys.

We had been surrounded by a thousand Black males in a single room, a thousand Black male educators, and we simply couldn’t shake that feeling.

We knew that that energy and that these conversations and that power was one thing that we wanted to carry again to the Kansas City space. Especially serious about the way in which that Kansas City schooling is fragmented. So we have now the Kansas City public faculties, however there’s 14 surrounding districts and we regularly discover one Black man over right here, one Black man over right here, one Black man over right here.

And they’re not really linked. So BLOC was form of born out of this concept that we actually simply needed to get the fellows collectively and we needed to create an surroundings and a community that the fellows may lean on. I’ll always remember it. We’re at Brown & Loe, down on the riverfront, and rented a room within the again and was throwing round names and got here up with this concept of Brothers Liberating Our Communities.

And what does liberation imply? How can we liberate? What actions does it take? What ideas and concepts does it take? Because we all know the schooling system will not be working and we all know that schooling is the important thing to liberation. Marcus Garvey’s quote is our is our organizational quote, Liberate the minds of man and you’ll liberate the our bodies of males.

And on the time of our founding was 2016, we began doing this work. And we knew that schooling was a key to vary.

And so we simply form of get it began doing skilled growth. Like I say, get within the Black guys collectively. Our very first PD ever. we had like 4 or 5 guys at it. We simply acquired some Papa John’s Pizza and we had a dialog.

Now, Black males tackle many various roles all through the day within the faculty constructing that aren’t associated to their precise duties. You know, they’re popping in a Susie’s class. They break up the combat. They’re popping downstairs to speak to Susie’s mama. They’re doing bus responsibility and so they’re doing cafeteria responsibility. Right. And this was a direct expertise of the work that I used to be having or that I used to be doing in faculties on the time.

So having that dialog, an actual dialog about actual issues that Black males are having in faculties and so they’re having actual conversations about options. Right. So how do you say no? How do you arrange boundaries? How do you coach individuals’s capability so that you just don’t should do all the pieces your self proper? You can truly construct a workforce round you to have the ability to enable you delegate some of these duties that you already know are crucial that you just really feel burden to do, however which you could’t carry on doing all the pieces for everybody.

So that was our first program and that simply actually developed right into a month-to-month get collectively that we nonetheless do and now there’s three or 4 different applications that we run alongside of it to essentially assist reshape what schooling seems like in order that we are able to invite a brand new era of educators into the area that may then actively like change how schooling is working proper.

Again, schooling’s not working for anybody. Less than 30% of Black children can learn, lower than 50% of white children can learn. It’s not working for anyone. We have to have the ability to determine a solution to do what schooling was really meant for, which is to create knowledgeable residents to take part in a democracy. We’re arising on an election season, and we have now youngsters which can be graduating from highschool that not eligible to vote.

They can’t learn a invoice and may’t determine for themselves which candidates are finest. It’s a precise operate of the schooling techniques to create a robust democracy. And proper now our nation is failing at doing that.

How do you’re feeling we get extra Black males within the area of schooling?

Well, I imply, at the start, it’s about it’s about pay it’s about compensation. But that compensation and that pay comes with a tradition and a reverence that we’re lacking. We don’t respect teachers. We don’t respect schooling. We see it as babysitting. Therefore we don’t compensate it extremely. You see what’s vital to society by what they spend their cash on.

So, of course, compensation is at the start and tradition of schooling. So I believe alongside of the illustration difficulty is the curriculum difficulty and the content material difficulty.. So what are we truly speaking about in faculties? How are we speaking success to college students? How are we measuring success with college students and teachers?

These are all elements that disengage Black males from schooling. When you have a look at the info round why teachers are leaving and all teachers are leaving, operating away from schooling. First and foremost is dissatisfaction with the administration and administration typically is, you already know, simply passing down what they should move down.

The principals acquired to maintain their job, proper. So they’re passing down and doing what they’re instructed to do. And so there simply finally ends up being this filter down impact the place insurance policies and laws and and customary based mostly curriculums dominate teachers, dailies and teachers don’t have the power to essentially train what’s crucial. So, once more, that’s the second frustration that I hear so much from from Black male educators and I believe, third, you already know, it will likely be rooted round that illustration as a result of they only really feel alone. The illustration like the primary domino in a practice of dominoes that you just knock down. If you add extra various educators to the system, then they’re going to show their very own historical past. They’re going to show what they know they’re going to show from their views.

Therefore, the curriculum is routinely going to be extra related. It’s going to be extra genuine. It’s going to have extra voices current. If you’ve got extra voices educating it. Again, with the insurance policies and the procedures; you go to so much of faculties and there’s zero tolerance insurance policies which can be burdensome on Black educators.

You’re kicking out the one Black boy within the faculty for sporting a hoodie.

I’m the one Black instructor within the faculty and I can’t arise for him. I don’t have a voice for him as a result of I’m making an attempt to maintain my job. And it’s a job that’s not even paying sufficient. So now you may form of begin to see the way in which that points can begin to compound over the course of a semester.

Tomorrow I’m going to get a very racist electronic mail from Susie, who’s my subsequent door neighbor, about how I’m being too loud in my classroom and the way my music is disturbing her class. Again, I don’t actually have the leverage or the information, the verbiage to defend myself. So once more, that is the place BLOC comes into play.

How can we begin to, you already know, line your pockets with a pair thousand {dollars} a month for doing programming {and professional} growth for us? How can we begin that can assist you learn by your emails and create robust methods for responding to some of these detrimental interactions that you just’re having, these so-called microaggressions? There’s nothing micro about them. They’re aggressive counter-culture tendencies that aren’t solely taking place to our solely educators in faculties, however are taking place to our college students as properly, regularly.

If they acquired the gumption to ship you a electronic mail, think about what they’re saying to Johnny and what they’re saying to Johnny’s dad and mom. So, once more, the BLOC will help. “What email did you get today? Forward that to me Let me read that. You know, I know your principal. I know your superintendent. Let me give them a call and let them know what Susie is doing. And maybe we can provide some services for you.”

Cornell Ellis, (left) executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited the classroom of English Language teacher Julian Johnson-Marshall (right) at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO. Ellis supports Black male educators and wants to see more of them in our schools.Cornell Ellis, (left) executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited the classroom of English Language teacher Julian Johnson-Marshall (right) at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO. Ellis supports Black male educators and wants to see more of them in our schools.

Cornell Ellis, (left) government director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited the classroom of English Language instructor Julian Johnson-Marshall (proper) at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO. Ellis helps Black male educators and needs to see extra of them in our faculties.

Or on the opposite finish, ‘you know what dog? What music are you playing? You know, maybe we should tone that down a little bit.’ You know, have anyone that appears such as you give you that robust suggestions that you could be have to develop in that second.

So BLOC is one thing that I created, that I wanted I had to assist me keep in schooling. You know, if I had BLOC, anyone to pay for my grasp’s diploma and hyperlink me up with out two Black males within the metropolis and meet up as soon as a month and have free drinks and free pizza and, you already know, speak, speak to guys, that that could be a manner that I really feel like I can keep in schooling no less than a bit of bit longer.

What’s been some of the suggestions that you just’ve obtained from fellow Black male educators who’ve come into the fold?

Nothing however optimistic. We’ve retained over 90% of our members in BLOC. I can’t ever sit right here and say that we’re all the pieces for everyone. I of course know Black males which have simply instructed me straight up, “I just don’t feel like it’s for me..” I’ve seen it personally the place they arrive to at least one occasion and are available to each BLOC occasion afterwards.

So everyone is totally different. Every man wants one thing totally different. I might encourage any Black man on the market proper now which can be feeling remoted, are feeling depressed, are feeling anxious about going to work tomorrow, come to an occasion and test it out or discover some kind of assist. Because your college students want you.

I actually acquired a textual content message final night time from one of our present fellows that, you already know, BLOC has been the most effective expertise that he’s been capable of have as a first-year instructor. I’ve a number of of my fellows that may say they wouldn’t be educating nonetheless if it weren’t for BLOC and the work that we’ve been capable of curate round them.

We’re not doing something for them. We’re simply doing it with them. We’re strolling alongside them in their very own energy, in their very own growth and serving to them sharpen the instruments to have the ability to be the most effective educators that they are often. I get so much of optimistic suggestions from our accomplices as properly. I don’t just like the phrase allies.

I reasonably use the phrase “accomplices.” But white individuals know the way vital this work is. White teachers can go searching their faculties and perceive. Every time I inform a white instructor, I’m making an attempt to get extra Black male educators in faculties, white girls hug me. Like, “Oh my God, thank you for the work that you are doing.” Because the Black boys that they love have to see Black males doing nice issues and doing optimistic issues of their lives.

So not solely is the response robust from Black males, the response is robust from non-Black males, it’s additionally robust from from college students. I believe I simply have a present for talking with college students and constructing relationships with college students. But simply general, younger males need to be round us, need to have this dialog about what’s flawed with schooling. They need to have this dialog of how can we make schooling higher. No human being needs what’s dangerous for them. Every human being, each father or mother, needs what’s finest for his or her child and needs there child to be higher than them. Every individual needs optimistic issues for his or her lives. We simply have to seek out the correct triggers and the correct levers to have the ability to get that going.

Just yesterday, for instance, I used to be out at a college. I used to be there visiting the younger boys mentoring group and the educators, there have been like, 4 or 5 Black males that had been convening the Black boys for this mentoring group. They get collectively as soon as a month and there was one younger man who didn’t need to come. He was adamant about this was not one thing that he wanted.

He he needed to to go and do what he thought was his ardour and expertise and what was going to profit his time finest. And there was an argument among the many males about whether or not or not this younger man must be pressured to take part or made obligatory. You know, one man thought, “No, this young man said very clearly he don’t want to do this. He shouldn’t be forced to do this. I told him he could go.”

The different man was like, “No, I told him he should be here because even if he don’t think he will gain from this, he will. Have him come sit his little behind down and get something from this.” The younger man ended up being in my group.

Of course, we ended up making a robust connection and him sitting there chatting with me quarter-hour in spite of everything the opposite children had gone. Turns out his favourite factor was shares. So he thought he needed to go spend his time throughout their house run interval buying and selling shares versus listening to the Black males speak about masculinity.

He was an amazing contributor in a bunch across the subject and we sat and went by my Robin Hood after and checked out my shares and he gave me some recommendation on the best way to do some some fast trades. It’s about discovering the entry level with these younger individuals and determining what’s their lever to have the ability to see the world differently.

But the response is overwhelmingly optimistic that we want extra Black males in faculties. Black males need to be in faculties, they only can’t afford to, so I really like for BLOC to have the ability to discover them, alternatives to have interaction.

Cornell Ellis, executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, has created a space for Black men to mentor Black boys and one another.Cornell Ellis, executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, has created a space for Black men to mentor Black boys and one another.

Cornell Ellis, government director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, has created an area for Black males to mentor Black boys and each other.

What’s been probably the most tough elements of getting the imaginative and prescient off the bottom? And what’s been your favourite half of being the manager director of this group?

My favourite half is watching everyone round me do nice work. I’ve been capable of carry collectively a workforce — shout out to Dante Goodwin, my program director and Ralph Cairo, supervisor of operations — to have the ability to actually assist put the infrastructure behind BLOC That’s been my largest problem. I believe we as visionaries and entrepreneurs, we have now a imaginative and prescient and we have now an concept that we all know is critical.

We don’t at all times know the nuts and bolts to make it run and so we want individuals round us, robust individuals round us, to assist us fill within the gaps. That’s what my workforce has been capable of do. So it’s been nice to observe my workforce develop and watch the work proceed to get finished. Shout out to all my program coordinators and all of the volunteers that work with BLOC.

They wouldn’t get finished on my own and the tough half, I believe, is the other of that. It’s watching the group develop and understanding that you just don’t have the capability to do it. And, figuring out that it’s a must to exit and create a community, create teams of individuals, create volunteers and staff, create the income to have the ability to pay these staff and pay these contractors in order that the work can hold going.

Philanthropy will not be enjoyable . Raising cash will not be my favourite factor. I’m not dangerous at it, don’t get me flawed. The group is value one million and a half {dollars}. I’ve finished a fairly good job, however it’s not one thing that I take pleasure in. I’d a lot reasonably work with college students. I coach within the afternoons as a result of I simply like to be screaming outdoors with children performing like a 16 12 months outdated, you already know?

But I’ve to placed on a button that claims government director every single day and make it possible for these infants have sufficient passionate Black males to maintain their experiences going. I can’t do all of it on my own, and I couldn’t do all of it as a superintendent or a principal both. You have to have the ability to discover the lever that means that you can take advantage of change And BLOC has allowed me to try this.

I really like waking up every single day, and my day is totally different each single day. You know, I actually should test my calendar very first thing within the morning to plan my time out and I really like that I don’t go to at least one constructing every single day. That drove me loopy, you already know? And in order that’s one other favourite half of this work, being versatile and with the ability to live life.

I’m a father or mother of two younger youngsters, and also you don’t get these alternatives twice, you already know what I imply? My son’s Black History Month program is correct after this. Thank God there’s solely half-hour and never an hour as a result of I’m capable of run over there and make {that a} reminiscence that in any other case I wouldn’t have the ability to get.

And if I used to be educating in a college, I wouldn’t have the ability to get it both, you already know? So I’m grateful every single day for the work that I’m doing, regardless that it may be tough and it’s been a progress alternative for me every day, which may be uncomfortable,

Okay, so the place does BLOC go from right here? You guys have made some substantial strides previously few years. Where do you see BLOC going within the subsequent several years?

Cornell Ellis, (left) executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited with science teacher Louis Lowe at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO., lending support to Black male teachers in Kansas City schools.Cornell Ellis, (left) executive director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited with science teacher Louis Lowe at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO., lending support to Black male teachers in Kansas City schools.

Cornell Ellis, (left) government director of BLOC, which stands for Brothers Liberating Our Community, visited with science instructor Louis Lowe at De La Salle Education Center, 3737 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO., lending assist to Black male teachers in Kansas City faculties.

So we’re launching our fifth and remaining program this 12 months. So for our 4 applications, you heard about one in particulars block constructing or month-to-month skilled growth. The second program that we launched was referred to as the Akoma Ntoso Fellowship, and the fellows is an early profession accelerator for Black male educators. We goal younger males of their first seven years of schooling, pay for his or her grasp’s diploma, get them an tutorial coach, accomplice them up with the varsity and actually present that wraparound assist.

They get reductions in Black owned eating places and reductions at native shoe shops to assist present their love and assist for Black male educators. Our third program. It’s referred to as Liberatory Leaders. We know actual change begins with principals and deans and heads of faculties. And so we attempt to create a specific surroundings, curated surroundings for them, the place they meet twice a 12 months initially of the 12 months within the 12 months and so they do faculty visits. Our fourth program is what’s referred to as Equity School enchancment.

So of course we don’t simply drop off Black males at your entrance door. We have a full wraparound faculty system that we do skilled growth in your faculty for all educators and supply these alternatives for a variety, fairness and inclusion, belonging, consultant curriculum and efficient pedagogy for our for all college students.

The fifth program shall be Future Liberators. So we tried to create, think about a jar, like a clay jar, that’s acquired a bunch of cracks and holes in it. That’s the schooling system. It’s not working. Whatever you pour into that jar, that is going to fall proper out of the aspect, whether or not or not it’s water or Kool-Aid or lemonade. All the cracks within the gap of the underside of the jar. It’s like educators who’re poured into the schooling system which can be falling proper out of the aspect.

BLOC’s work on the very starting within the first 5 years has simply been patching these cracks within the jar. How can we cease the retention leak that we’re seeing from Black male educators and create applications that assist them..

So we’re trying ahead to a partnership with Crossroads Prep this upcoming 12 months to completely combine a 3rd grade by twelfth grade grow-your-own instructor program the place we’re grabbing college students which have potential for schooling as early as third grade and telling these younger boys, you’ll be an amazing instructor. Let’s work your manner in direction of an amazing occupation and determine how one can assist your neighborhood, liberate your neighborhood by schooling.

It’s taken us generations to get right here, goes to take us generations to get again.

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