Although Houston—and the Houston Independent School District—is a long way from his home in New Jersey, Baruti Kafele felt right at home in Westbury High School’s dining commons.
That’s because despite being thousands of miles away from his home base, he was speaking to a group of people that shared one very important trait—being an educator. Kafele, a nationally recognized teacher, principal, and summertime speaker at conferences across the country, was in Houston to speak at the HISD Men’s Leadership Summit.
As keynote speaker at the inaugural conference, Kafele knew he had one job: to inspire a new generation of male educators.
“Teaching provides an opportunity for men to enter the ranks of the most important and influential profession in the world,” he said. “Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that once you’re in the classroom with those young people, you are a leader. You are the leader. That’s a powerful thing.”
His keynote speech was just one part of a day-long summit for HISD educators, focusing on empowering male educators and leaders within the district. Organizers of the summit say that it is important for men—especially men of color—to continue to choose education as a profession.
“We want to introduce everyone—but specifically men—to the opportunities that are here in Houston Independent School District,” Kenneth Davis, South Area Superintendent, said. “And show them what we do in terms of the work of education children from all levels, inside the classroom and far beyond.”
About 10 percent of the teacher workforce in Texas identify as African American, with only 3 percent of that number identifying as male. Nearly 10 percent of male teachers leave the profession every year, with many leaving education altogether after only 3 to 5 years.
Organizers said that as one of the most diverse districts in the country, HISD needs to provide role models for all students in the classroom.
“Having quality male educators—especially men of color— in HISD is imperative,” Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “It’s a vital part of providing a quality education to all of our students. With programs like Ascending to Men and ROSES, we have provided our students with the opportunity to find and maintain mentorships throughout their journeys in HISD. But for that to work, we need mentors to provide that guidance.”
Students—like Westbury High School junior Handsome Simien—were also invited to the summit. They were present to help further the summit’s goal of showing attendees that a career in education can mean many things, from business management or human resources to nutrition services or communications, on top of being in the classroom.
“You can be a leader towards the younger generation,” Simien said. “Me, personally, I don’t have a father of home. A lot of people don’t have a father at home. So being in the classroom environment, I could help inspire that next generation.”