As a kid, Jamel Holmes knew he wanted to be a teacher. He would spend rainy days giving spelling tests and playing math games with other children in his apartment building in New York's South Bronx.
But throughout elementary school, Holmes never had a teacher who looked like him. It wasn't until seventh grade that he had his first Black male teacher—Mr. Emdin. In some ways, he was lucky. Nearly 80% of teachers in the U.S. are white, and many Americans go their entire educations without having even one non-white teacher.
Teachers of color make a difference, which is why education nonprofit DonorsChoose has teamed up with The Allstate Foundation to support them. According to research from Johns Hopkins University and American University, having at least one Black teacher in grades three through five reduces the likelihood of Black students dropping out of high school by up to 39% and increases the likelihood that students from low-income households will aspire to attend college. An analysis published in Education Next also found that Black teachers tend to have higher expectations of Black students, which contributes to greater success.
Diversity in teaching helps white students, too. Educational laboratory REL Northwest found that white students with non-white teachers develop better problem-solving and critical thinking skills, expand their range of creativity and social and emotional skills, and increase their sense of civic engagement.
A joint initiative from DonorsChoose and The Allstate Foundation offers individuals and groups opportunities to help bridge racial gaps in the classroom. For one, The Allstate Foundation will match all donations to teachers of color who are using DonorsChoose to crowdfund projects for the first time. DonorsChoose has also partnered with The Allstate Foundation to launch a Racial Justice and Representation category on the site, making it easy for donors to help fund classroom projects focused on increasing diversity in curricula and creating a more inclusive environment. From buying books written by diverse authors to providing materials for anti-racism education, donors can directly support teachers working toward racial equity.
"Achievement soars when students see their identities reflected in both their teachers and learning material," said Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose. "Research also shows that too many students of color and students from low-income households enter classrooms without enough books, technology and supplies. By creating this new category on DonorsChoose, we want to support these students and give voice to their teachers, tapping their frontline wisdom."
In addition to matching donations to teachers of color using DonorsChoose for the first time, The Allstate Foundation will also match every donation to projects in the Racial Justice and Representation category, up to a total of $1.5 million. You can see those projects here.
Jamel Holmes did grow up to become a teacher. He earned a master's degree and now teaches special education for sixth graders at East Bronx Academy for the Future, the same school he attended. Holmes uses DonorsChoose to help his students get what they need both inside and outside school. He has crowdfunded technology tools for his classroom as well as personal care items for his students. He drives through the Bronx to give school supplies, clothing, laundry essentials and food to kids whose families are in need, and even takes students to get free haircuts. He wants to be a role model students can turn to.
Courtesy of Jamel Holmes
"As I think about Black male teachers ... there are not many of us," Holmes says. "We bring more than just the academics, the curriculum, pedagogy … [we bring] real life experience in which we can relate to our students well beyond the classroom."
Schools are charged with providing a safe, nurturing and equitable environment for students and teachers. Supporting educators who are trying to create that environment by helping fund their racial equity projects is a good place to start.
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