Quan Neloms wants more black men teaching in Detroit classrooms. And he’s doing something about it.
This July, he started In Demand, an initiative to attract more men of color to roles in education -- teachers, mentors and volunteers.
“The goal of In Demand is to uplift the men already involved in education and to recruit other men who are looking for ways to be involved,” said Neloms, a counselor at Warren E. Bow School in the Detroit Public School Community District, “especially when talking about young men of color.”
Neloms hopes the project will help build a database of men who are interested in becoming educators in Detroit, and connect them to college mentorship programs, or schools looking for volunteers.
The idea for In Demand came to Neloms during a conference in Detroit after he met a woman who ran a school program for young black male students. She told Neloms she was having trouble finding black men to help run her sessions.
“She was upset about that. I was like, ‘Man, I wish I had a database to give her,’” Neloms said. He considered ways to leverage his contacts and influence, and then talked with a few other men to discuss how to “put something together and rally the troops.”
Neloms drew on his music background and, with the help of other educators, created a music video to sound the call for black men and boys to get involved, reminding them that their services were needed and “In Demand.”
“Only 2 percent of teachers are black men – a short supply. So, any time there’s a short supply, that’s ‘in demand.’ We’re looking to increase that supply,” Neloms said. “Statistics show that particularly for a male student, when they encounter a teacher that looks like them, resembles them, they tend to have a better experience in school.”
A 2018 study from researchers at Johns Hopkins and American University showed that 13 percent of black students who had one black teacher were more likely to enroll in college. That number increased to 32 percent when students had two black teachers.
“Having a positive black male role model, the students are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to finish high school, and more likely to be happy about coming to school every day,” said Chris Rutherford, the Promise of Place Program Manager for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. “Part of this comes from just having that relationship, having someone near that provides a difference.”
Rutherford, who also took part in the In Demand video, hopes men from the community will get involved in the schools so students can see and be inspired by men from various walks of life.
“Take a different look at your priorities and see where you can spend some more time at your child’s school, and if you no longer have children, find the closest school near you to go volunteer,” Rutherford said.
Neloms agrees that volunteering is a way to get more black men and boys interested in education. Teaching as a career didn’t occur to him until he did some volunteer work in college and became inspired.
“If I wouldn’t have had that chance encounter, actually volunteering in a school and seeing the importance, I wouldn’t have become a teacher,” Neloms said.
Neloms went on to teach for many years at Detroit’s Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, the only all-male public high school in Michigan, where he founded the Lyricist Society, a program for students that promotes cultural awareness, literacy and achievement. Currently, he’s also an education ambassador with Teach 313, a Detroit-based initiative focused on recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers in the area.
He hopes In Demand can help capture the attention of young men, and perhaps coordinate with high schools to increase the emphasis on careers in education, possibly including it as a program offered in trade schools.
He’d also like to see more mentorship, not only for young men in school, but also for young educators. He says it’s important for more seasoned teachers to work with novice teachers, to share teaching skills and the nuances they’ll need in the long term. Neloms hopes In Demand will create a place and the space in which that can happen.
“Those first four years are critical years. That’s when they figure out if they want to stay in the profession,” Neloms said. “I benefited from that. I had all kinds of mentors, and I’ve kept those relationships.”
When Neloms asked Rutherford to participate in the video for In Demand, Rutherford said he knew it was something special. Meeting and performing with the other men from different schools gave him a feeling of camaraderie.
“This is really an initiative of educators who are passionate and committed,” Rutherford said. “I am one of many people who really want to see African American males succeed. We really want to see our educational system succeed.”
This story appears as part of coverage for “NBC News Learn Presents: Education Now Detroit,” a two-hour live community event supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. For more information, go to nbcnews.com/learndetroit.