The Power of Many: Men of Color in Educational Leadership (MCEL)
“It is rare to be in a room with all brothers,” New Leaders CEO Jean Desravines reflected. A few hundred education leaders of color, all male, were gathered for an expert panel discussion at the Men of Color in Educational Leadership (MCEL) national convening. “I’ve been in education for 30 years, and it’s never happened before. I’ve been in rooms with sprinkles of brothers, but never in a room with all brothers.” The room erupted with applause.
MCEL was founded in 2017 by Harrison Peters and Steve Gerring, two system leaders who wanted to create a space for male educational leaders of color to openly discuss issues of race in public education and address the common challenges they faced in schools and districts across the country. MCEL centers its work on three pillars: supporting the quality, care, and quantity of male leaders of color.
At every table, superintendents, district-level administrators, principals, assistant principals, and education leaders in technology and nonprofits engaged with each other around their shared purpose: to drive better outcomes for children and youth, particularly underserved and underestimated students of color. Student success is the end goal.
“There is nothing wrong with Black and Brown children in our country. The issue is that they’re not getting access to quality learning every day. … We can no longer accept mediocrity. … I think it’s so important that our Black and Brown boys see men that look like them doing positive things and making sure they get well educated.”
Dr. Joseph Davis, Superintendent, Ferguson-Florissant Schools
“We can't aspire to just switch places with folks who are running a system that's broken. We have to have a different level of consciousness to think about something that's different, that's better for humanity overall.”
Robert Runcie, former Superintendent, Broward County Schools
Both New Leaders and MCEL support the campaign for One Million Teachers of Color and its goal to add one million more educators of color and 30,000 more leaders of color in schools across the country over the next decade. Today, half of all students in K-12 public schools identify as people of color, and yet, surprisingly, 40 percent of our nation’s public schools have no teachers of color. Only one in five principals identify as leaders of color, and only two percent are male teachers of color. Known as the representation gap, New Leaders, MCEL and a broad coalition of education organizations are committed to closing it.
Here’s why: we know great school principals build great schools. Research clearly shows the lasting benefits that educators and leaders of color have on all students, especially students of color. “The goal here is not to say that we want to replace existing white leaders,” explained Desravines. “Rather, it is: we have attrition through retirement and people transitioning out, we have to be more intentional about building a more diverse pipeline.”
Leaders at the MCEL convening wholeheartedly agreed. Many shared how lonely, and at times exhausting, it is to be the only male leader of color or one of a small handful in a school or district. They expressed a shared need to connect with colleagues and mentors, to engage with community members, and to recruit, develop, and retain talented teachers and leaders of color. Being together fostered trust, honest conversation, and fueled the need for collective action.
“So during that George Floyd moment, I took a moment at a board meeting to talk about what it was like raising a son. I told my [predominantly white] board about how I feel as a father, how I teach him to be respectful and to make himself small, so I have some peace. It was interesting to me how many people asked, ‘What do you mean? You're the superintendent. Why would you be afraid for your child?’ Right?”
Dr. Donald Fennoy, former Superintendent, School District of Palm Beach County
“It’s about creating spaces, pulling up another chair, like how we’re sitting here. How do we pull up more chairs? How do we stop fighting between Black and Brown communities? … It’s on us to find ways to make the table bigger. … Let’s stop fighting over crumbs and get the whole loaf.”
Dr. Daniel Velasco, President, Latinos 4 Education
Through convenings and ongoing professional development and networking opportunities, MCEL gives leaders the chance to tap into the collective wisdom of the room. How to successfully reduce the disproportionate (and unjust) rate of expulsions and arrests out of school for students, in particular boys and adolescents, of color. How to prioritize quality instruction that engages all students. How to leverage school systems—some of the largest employers in the country—to create policies that drive dollars into the communities they serve and create more equitable opportunities for Latino and Black-owned businesses.
Amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, New Leaders and MCEL are committed to not only talking about reimagining public education but to truly moving the needle for undeserved and underestimated students and communities. Through its leadership development programs, New Leaders supports school systems to build diverse pipelines of equity-minded leaders and cultivate exceptional leaders who support students in realizing their futures as the next generation of great thinkers, innovators, and leaders for our society. In 20 years, we’ve trained more than 8,000 equity-focused leaders—sixty percent of whom identify as leaders of color. And close to fifteen percent are men of color.
“It’s not really just about men of color in education leadership,” observed Runice. “It’s about men of color, period, being able to have an opportunity in life to be whoever they can be.”
To learn more about Men of Color in Educational Leadership, visit: https://www.mcelleaders.org/