Personal Testimony of Kojo Asamoa-Caesar, Black Male Educator. Originally appeared at Good School Hunting.
Today was a really rough day. I was this 👌🏿 close to losing my religion. But I stayed like Jesus. And then at the end of the day the Lord sent me a sign…in the form of Kehlan.
Kehlan was one of 16 energetic boys in my kindergarten class during my first year of teaching. He is now in 5th grade. Wowzers. He randomly decided to stop by the school on his way home today to say hi. He says he remembered that his mom had told him I worked here.
I have probably dedicated more man-hours, effort and energy to Kehlan than to any other individual student. Kehlan was the kid that all the other kids looked up to and wanted to be like, but he did all the things the teacher didn’t like for anybody to do. A black boy full of energy, wit and charisma. A kindergartener who played linebacker on a team of 2nd and 3rd graders.
He once balled up his fists when he was upset and a white Pre-K teacher screamed and ran away in fear.
That moment cemented for me the need for black male presence in early education, for folks who didn’t view as a threat, five-year old black boys who ball up their fists when they’re angry.
I saw so much potential in Kehlan, and he made sure I worked hard to earn his trust and respect. He didn’t care how much I knew, he wanted to know how much I cared. I went to football games. I did home visits. I had conferences with mom and dad.
I had countless heart to hearts with Kehlan. We would take two steps forward and then five steps back.
Kehlan had just about every job in my classroom – line leader, door holder, table cleaner, floor sweeper, snack basket returner, etc. – because I had to wear him out or else he’d wear me and everybody else out.
Kehlan was one of the strongest students in the class in math but struggled a bit with reading. By the end of the year he was above grade level in both. I remember vividly a meeting at the end of the year with Kehlan, Mom and I. We sat around the table and reflected on the highs and lows of the year. We were ending on a low note because Kehlan had gotten into a fight late in the year. We talked about all the things we had done to try to support him and asked him why none of that seemed to be sinking in. Mom began to wipe tears from her eyes as Kehlan and I traded watery-eyed glances.
I felt defeated. I thought I had failed him. I wasn’t quite sure what the future held for him, and I was scared.
I was feeling some of those same emotions today. But then seemingly out of nowhere, Kehlan shows up. Looking sharp in his bow tie, speaking confidently about how much progress he’s made, about how he’s dominating on the football field and in the classroom. About how “I don’t get in trouble like I used to anymore.” And when I asked him if his dream was still to go to the NFL, he said “yeah, but I also want to be an engineer.” The smile on my face was as wide as the equator.
Kehlan is my why.
He is the reason I came to Oklahoma to teach kindergarten. He is my legacy. If I don’t touch anybody else, he would’ve been worth it all. He gives me hope that all hope is not lost. That even when we think we’ve failed, we may have planted seeds of success that we’re yet able to see.
Thank you God for the intentional signs. I am grateful for the privilege and opportunity to touch young lives and impact them for the future. Thank you Kehlan for showing up today just when I most needed to see you. Thank you TIffany Harris-Corbbrey and Michael Corbbrey for raising such an outstanding young man. Can’t wait to see the man he will become.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.