From time to time, Black Men Teach will be sharing testimonials and personal stories from some of our exceptional black male educators in the Twin Cities. We thank Keenan Jones, elementary school teacher in Hopkins, for his honest and inspiring message.
WHY I TEACH – Keenan Jones, Hopkins Public Schools
My grandfathers grew up in an era of discrimination, racism, and segregation in the South and Midwest. They fought for literacy because they knew their fight would benefit generations after. My road to becoming an educator was not easy, especially being a Black man in America. I made it because many individuals from coaches, teachers, and specifically Black men would not allow me to fail.
In 2019, I continue to see the struggle of some of our young Black boys, many going through the same struggles I had in school and society. I feel like it’s my duty to give back and fight in the same way Black men fought for me.
When I see young people coming into the building and smiling, ecstatic about the learning day, it motivates me to know that I can help change the world by delivering a message of dreaming big and determination to these young minds. There is no profession in the world that I feel has more impact on our youth than education. For 6-7 hours a day, we can sculpt minds to think about social justice, critical thinking, science, writing, and most importantly, being a good citizen. As a Black man, I feel like my view of the world has prepared me for this profession of teaching. Prepared me to offer a unique perspective of what you can do when you reach for the stars and dream big. My reward is when my students leave the classroom with a greater sense of self, all because I provide them the space in which to do so.
However, I live with this harsh reality. Often times when I walk in to the building, I have the feeling of, “who is watching me, who doesn’t trust me, what do people think of me?” Many tell me not to feed into that, but it is tough not having colleagues that you can connect with on a personal level. Professionalism teaches you to collaborate with all, but how can you collaborate with those who at times question your intelligence? I will never forget a teacher who once told me, “The only reason students like you is because your tall, athletic, and black.” Those words have stuck with me since they were mumbled in my ears. These micro aggressions happen often, but I think back to my family and those men in my family who lived in the civil rights era. Every day, I’m fighting to work harder than the last, to reduce the stereotypes about Black males in education and Black males in society. I accept the challenges that I’m faced with on the day to day basis, but at some point I hope that my work will tear down these walls that are up for Black males in America. All for the purpose of making it easier for future young Black male educators.