By: Jamirious Mooney, 12th Grade Senior, Phillip O'Berry High, Charlotte, NC
Growing up in small town, my school was very small. From Pre-K all the way up to my 4th grade year I had encountered female teachers in the classroom, and out of those I’d had 1 female teacher of color and that was my first year when I was a Pre-K student. Going into my 5th grade year I’d found out that I would have a male teacher as my 5th grade teacher and I was so excited to have him as my teacher because he was the first male teacher we’d had at the school besides the music teacher and principal. I was a good student and I enjoyed going to school, I sat in the front of the class instead of the back, I rarely got in trouble and having to be called out was uncommon for me. One day in his class, my friend who sat across from me threw an eraser at me joking around. So I threw it back because my dad told me “if somebody hit you, you hit them back or I’m going to whoop you when you get home” like most parents in the African-American home. Well that day my teacher happened to see the whole incident happen and his solution to the problem was to move me to the back of the class for 2 weeks, desk and all. He then started treating me differently, like I was a troublemaker and couldn't be trusted. I had never encountered that before. So I went home and told my parents. After calling the school and trying to get the problem rectified with no resolve my frustrated mom thought it would be best to pull me out of that school and move me to the big city of Charlotte NC.
I finished 5th grade at Pawtuckett Elementary School where my new teacher was a female educator of color. She impacted me in a lot of ways and we became really close. Once I moved to the 6th grade I realized that my two core teacher were men. I again was excited to try again with the male teachers at my new school. I remember being terribly nervous and excited to meet these men on open house. My first block was English with Dr. Butler, we walked into his room and to my surprise, he was black. I had never met a black man with an Bachelor’s degree before, let alone a Doctorate’s degree. Then we moved on to math with Mr.Moss who was my second block teacher. Again, I was taken aback at the fact that he was black, and these men were intimidating to me. They were tall, and spoke with sharp tones and carried themselves well. They were the teachers who helped me wake up and realize the realities of the world that had been covered up my entire life. In their classrooms I started to realize that the society that we lived in was not set up to have men of color succeed. They taught me that I would have to work harder than my counterpart for the exact same job, respect, and wealth.
During the school year I’d taken a special liking to Mr.Moss my math teacher and I spent a lot of time in his classroom. I had noticed that the kids who got in trouble the most, had great relationships with the male teachers because they talked one-on-one with them more often than quiet children like myself. I wanted that kind of relationship with these men, and one day at lunch Mr.Moss had jokingly taken my oatmeal pie. I told him he could have it but he gave it back and told me he couldn’t take it. So that afternoon before we went outside to the track, I slipped it in his lunchbox without telling him. After a couple weeks went by he never mentioned the oatmeal pie, so I wrote him a note on one of our test asking him if he’d gotten it. After that he started speaking to me more and having more conversations with me. I started staying after for “tutoring” every Tuesday and Thursday even though I didn’t need it just to hang out with Mr.Moss. I invited him to church and to Sunday dinners with my family after realizing he didn't have any family in Charlotte. He also started pouring into me more after realizing that I was living in a single parent home without a father. I knew I could count on him whenever I needed him. I started realizing that he didn’t want to just be my teacher, he wanted to make a difference in other kids lives.
He and Dr.Butler inspired me so much at that age. Dr.Butler inspired me to work hard to earn your title and not to let anyone tell you you can't. After watching Dr.Butler get arrested and being taken from school for reasons I’m not going to put in this article, he still had the courage and boldness to come back and teach us. Even though it had to be an embarrassment, he knew there was a job that needed to be done in the lives of minority children and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from doing that job. Mr.Moss taught me so much about giving back and hard work. I watched this man studying and do homework in order to get his Master’s degree while teaching full time, coaching track, football and basketball, serving as our MathCounts coach and founding the Gentlemen’s League. He would tell me that “he could sleep when he is dead” when I asked him about sleep and he lived by that motto. I looked up to him like he was my dad and I would never tell him this but I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He pushed me to start fixing my relationship with my own dad while stepping in to be a dad to me until that time came, and it was because he knew the struggles of the black community unlike other male teachers who cannot relate the struggles in our community and think just because you yell and fuss and discipline a student, that will make them a better person. Because the truth of the matter is, it takes men of color to go into these schools and teach boys of color how to be exceptional men of color, and when that happens we can break this cycle of fatherless boys, single moms raising children alone, and change this mindset that being a thug and a gangster is how you become successful. You don't need to spit bars and say you can handle being behind bars in order to say you’re making it. It's more than that, It’s about changing the trajectory of our young brother’s lives before this society, media, and world does.