There is a shortage of Black men in education, from classroom teaching to leadership roles such as principal. During the 2017-2018 school year, 7.8 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools were Black, making up 15 percent of the total student population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Though there were about four million teachers in total—including public schools, charter schools and private schools—only about 280,000 (seven percent) were Black, and about 80,000 (two percent) were Black men. 

The majority of Black children are not being taught by Black teachers, let alone by Black men. 

The numbers are similar when it comes to school principals. Out of 90,900 school principals, about 9,999 (11 percent) were Black, and about 1,818 (two percent) were Black men.

The numbers point to the reality of the assault on Black male educators, critics point out.


“I think assault actually is an apt description of what happens, and the context of being a Black man in America and a Black man in American schools have a lot of similarities. So, we would be naive to think that Black men’s experience in America—politics, economics, housing—is wholly separate from their experiences in the educational system. It doesn’t just disappear or dissipate just because they became an educator,” said Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development, to The Final Call.

Portrait of black male teacher demonstrating robot model to group of children standing in circle during engineering class outdoors

Last year, he co-wrote a report on “Insights into the Black Male Educator Experience,”based on a survey of 5,000 people, with 32percent being male teachers of color.

He described that the experiences reported by the Black men surveyed “were very eerily similar to some of the experiences that I had as a Black man.” Part of that experience, he said, is sometimes being the only Black man in both the school and the district.

Mr. El-Mekki described the assault on Black men from childhood to adulthood, from the juvenile detention center to mass incarceration. “When they’re children, youth, teenagers, men, all the way through their timeline or continuum, we see that Black men in these spaces have been assaulted intellectually, culturally, emotionally, spiritually,” he said. “So, we have to really have a comprehensive view and approach to addressing all the ways that Black men’s humanity is under assault, and it’s under assault inside the educational system.”

Confident teacher of robotics standing between his pupils constructing robots and other electronic toys and helping them at lesson

Jason Muhammad from Rochester, New York, has been a school principal for a little over three years. July will mark 30 years he has been in education, including classroom teaching and serving as an assistant principal.

“When you look at education in America and you look at what happens to Black boys, it doesn’t seem dubious to me that at the other end of the spectrum, when you get to the teachers and educational leaders, that there’s a lack of Black males. If they’re being picked off, if you will, in the lower grades, then quite naturally as a student matriculates through the years of school, it’s less likely they’ll reach the upper echelon and become a teacher or a teacher leader, administrator or a principal,” he said to The Final Call.

Part of his challenge as a Black male principal is being over schools where the majority of teachers don’t look like him. 

“When you come along and you have a moral grounding and you speak like a man, that can sometimes not be well-received. I’ve had union representatives tell me I sounded like an angry Black man. And my response was, ‘Well, you’ve made me very angry, and I am a Black man, so I guess that fits,’” he said.

On the other hand, he said, when the staff is supportive and there’s a strong team, “then you can do what is necessary to help push the educational agenda forward.”

Another challenge Mr. Muhammad has come across is Black leaders being looked at as a monolith or anomaly. 

“For a Black male principal to come up through the ranks of education, he’s viewed as an anomaly, and they look with doubt and suspicion,” he said. “Does he deserve this job? How well does he speak? Can he write? Does he really know instruction? I mean, I know he can probably be a disciplinarian and I know he can suspend, but can he push forward the instructional agenda?”

For Mr. Jason Muhammad, it’s not about a job, but it’s about “helping Black children who are caught up in this web of the killing fields of America” and helping them find purpose and improve their lives.

‘The disciplinarian’

Both Mr. Muhammad and Mr. El-Mekki recognized the reality of Black male educators often being put into a “disciplinarian” role. Black male principals are either given the toughest, lowest-performing schools, or they are given “turnaround schools,” which are failing schools that need someone to turn them around, Mr. Muhammad explained. And after the school is turned around, the principal is then removed and replaced with someone deemed “more appropriate.”

Mr. El-Mekki noted that many Black male educators feel forced to implement policies they view as oppressive, and many are seen as the school’s “ogre” or “overseer” instead of intellectuals. 

“Black men aren’t looked at as nurturing, caring intellectuals, but more or less like, ‘Oh, you’re going to be the muscle to intimidate other kids who look like you and put them in their place,’” he said. And sometimes, Black men are asked to punish age-appropriate and condition-appropriate behavior.

“Sometimes students may resist schooling because what they really want is the education, and they’re punished for that. Their feedback is really like, this isn’t education, this is schooling. This is pigeonholing me. This is undermining my understanding of history. This is erasing my people’s contributions. I’m not seeing myself or my identity affirmed,” Mr. El-Mekki said. 

On the other side, he added, some Black male educators are elevated too quickly, out of tokenization, and are not given the adequate levels of support, coaching, sponsorship and mentorship to be successful in their new role.


May 17 marked 69 years since the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated America’s schools. But Black educators argue the decision destroyed Black schools in the process.

According to “The Need for More Teachers of Color” booklet, published April 2022, Philadelphia public schools, district, and charter schools employed nearly 1,200 fewer Black teachers in 2020-21 than they did 20 years ago, even as the number of teachers increased for other races and ethnicities.

“They say, teacher diversity, teacher diversity, but then when you look, they’re not talking about Black teachers,” Mr. El-Mekki said. 

He refuses to believe a school’s website that says “we value diversity” when the retention rates of Black principals and assistant principals, who are leading different committees and who are being supported and sponsored tell a different story.

“When you have schools and districts where 25 to 50 percent of the student body are Black boys and you can’t show them any type of leadership of Black men educators, outside of discipline and athletics, then you have to take a hard look at your system itself,” he said.

He noted that one of the fallouts of Brown v. Board of Education was taking Black children but either refusing to take Black teachers and educators or laying off, firing, and demoting tens of thousands.

For Black people working in schools that are not Black-owned, Jason Muhammad said it’s important for Black administrators to find and recruit Black teachers. But he also said that Black people ran away from the schools the same way they ran from agricultural life, due to trauma. As principal, he is now seeing the children of his former students, but very seldom does he see his former students as teachers.

“What winds up happening is, if we have a bad experience in school, we tend to turn our children over to the very same, the exact same teacher that we had a problem with when we were students, thinking somehow maybe they’ve changed or improved and all of a sudden they’re going to do right. They didn’t do right by us. Why do we think they’re going to do right by our children? But the thought was never there for us to become the teacher and make a change so that we’re not turning our children over to people that crushed us or attempted to,” he said.

“We need to find a way to encourage Black boys to become teachers, and either repair them from the drama and trauma that they experienced or get them in an educational arena that won’t cause that kind of drama and trauma to exist in the first place.”

—Anisah Muhammad, Contributing Writer