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Inaugural conference brings brotherhood as 100 black male educators unite

As the school year approaches, 100 black male educators are together under one roof — likely for the first time in Minnesota history.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Before we know it, educators statewide will gather for Education Minnesota's MEA conference, a longstanding tradition in the metro. But first, a much smaller group of black male educators are gathering for a convention designed specifically for them.

Hosted by Black Men Teach Twin Cities, 100 black male educators are currently attending "Celebrating the Half Percent: The Inaugural Black Men Teach Conference."

"There are 63,436 active teachers in the state of Minnesota … with roughly 220 black male educators," executive director Markus Flynn said. "Two-hundred-twenty out of 63,436 is less than half of one percent."

"If we had to break down what this conference was about, and just do it in one word, it's just about brotherhood," he continued. "We really want to bring together that half percent. There's so few of us."

Workshop presenter Darrail Hughes brought in planting materials to get that message across Friday afternoon, instructing participants to plant a seed in a cup and water it.

"What are you producing? That's the main message from me is that, though we reach so many heights in life, but if you're not having anyone else come behind you …  you're not growing," Hughes said. "You're just getting older."

While Hughes has 12 years of education experience, attendee Vincent Thomas is on path to Minnesota's classrooms. Thomas says, after dropping out of high school at 17 years old, he worked for seven years as a school bus driver before moving to China to teach English for three years. He's now set to graduate in December with honors for a bachelor's degree in education.

"Just seeing so many here, so many black male teachers, I'm like 'Wow,'" Thomas said. "In the other room, [a presenter] spoke about how he faced trauma growing up and there was no therapy. There was no one asking him how he felt, and I almost broke down because, I was like, that is exactly how I feel."

Most of the participants also did not have a black male teacher growing up in their various districts.

"The stereotypes that we have of poverty and violence and aggression, you can either reinforce those or have another story going on and I feel everyone in this room was like, 'I'm going to push for that other story,'" Thomas said.

A two-day conference held at the Essence Event Center, Black Men Teach plans to bring it back next year with hopes that by then the "half-percent" would grow to at least one percent.

The organization is also partnering with the Minneapolis and Columbia Heights school districts to help recruit and retain black male educators, especially in elementary schools.

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