“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass  

We become what we see. We imitate what we see. We base our frame of reference on what we see and if we don’t see enough of ourselves each day – we become lost.

My babies are lost.

One afternoon, I heard a frantic knock on my door.

“Ms. Little, Jason (name changed for anonymity) is having a fit in the bathroom; he just flipped the desks and is punching the walls.”

I gave my class the quick “I’ll be back, don’t try nothing” look and walked briskly down the hall.

I left the whole for the ONE.

I find Jason sure enough, punching the walls of the bathroom, fists balled up, blowing hard, crying, no sound out of his Dizzy Gillespie jaws…

He is surrounded by two white men – Deans of the school.

I caught Jason’s eyes and said – “Unball your hands. Breathe. Stop.” His fists opened up. “I need you in my class in three minutes. You are a brilliant mind – you’ve read our novel before, so I need you. But I need you to be the best you – not this you. Dry your face, pick your head up and walk tall into class. We’ll talk about this later.” Jason’s body calmed and he opened his eyes to wipe his face. He didn’t blink in looking at me and neither did I. I knew he heard the “please” behind my eyes. He turned and went into the stall to grab some tissue.

One of the white men walked me out into the hall to inquire if I knew about Jason’s “outbursts” and his history. I told him, no and none of that was important to me in this moment. He began to tell me how he needed a safe space to explore his inner feelings…

I turned to him in all of my Black Girl Magic and said –

“Soo in three years when he has outbursts in the street and maybe punches you, your property or other people’s property or worse, hurts someone or himself – will YOU be wondering about his history?”

No response.

2% of the nation’s teachers are Black men.

100% of the students in my school are Black.

75%  of my 5th-grade students are boys.


I am a Black woman and although I can understand the plight of my black men in society – I am not a Black Man. I am a nurturer, a loving corrector, but I am not the symbol of strength and discipline needed for my Black boys.

My boys need a Black Male Educator.

In a recent article highlighting Philadelphia’s School District and the Black Male Educators for Social Justice Fellowship, Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker answers the question, “What’s impeding progress for students of color? Not having a mirror is one thing.”

Not having a mirror.

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The picture above is my then 7 year-old daughter’s answer to what she expected her teacher to be like in 1st grade. Why? Because her mother is a teacher and her mother is Black.

It’s crucial that we have high-quality Black educators, especially men.  I know the previous situation would have been very different if we had black men in our building. For one, my presence would not have been required.

A Black male educator does more than just teach the content – he provides a visual of academic excellence, a walking billboard of “it’s cool to be smart.”  He becomes the prototype for hard work and dedication for our boys, a point of reference for how a man should look, dress and speak. A black male educator is sometimes the only example of “arrived” that a black boy sees. My boys need to see a black male educator command a classroom with his presence alone.  And not just for my Black boys, my girls too.

My girls need to hear from their Black male educators that it’s not ok to square up and fight a boy, like a man. That it’s ok to not be “strong” and snap back.

Yes, we need you, but I also recognize and understand why we don’t have Black male educators.

  • A teacher’s salary isn’t the most glamourous – thus it can be difficult for a Black Man to build for a family.
  • Teaching requires a degree – which eliminates a substantial portion of our Black men who may be unable to get Federal grants and aid if they have a conviction involving a controlled substance.

I applaud men like David McGuire – who is committed to seeing more Black male educators across the country by creating the necessary pipelines. We need more men like him, who see the need and is doing something about it!

And even though I’m not a Black male educator- I am a Black educator – so any chance I get, I show pictures of my male colleagues who are catalyst for change, in hope that one day my students will remember a face or their name and want to emulate the excellence they see.

Because every black boy or girl, should be anxious about their school year and be disappointed when their teacher isn’t Black.

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.