United Way of Central Carolinas’ Unite Charlotte works with small, grassroots organizations to improve racial equity and increase social capital. Since launching Unite Charlotte in 2016 in response to the civic unrest in Charlotte, United Way has invested nearly $900,000 in organizations including Profound Gentlemen.
During the early years of their educational careers, Jason Terrell and Mario Shaw heard a recurring sentiment from their students – Jason and Mario were the first black male teachers they’d had in their classrooms.
Through personal experience, feedback from colleagues and a bit of research, the friends discovered that male educators of color were five times more likely than other groups to leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.
“I really felt the pressure of what does it mean for our young boys, specifically boys of color, to grow up in today’s society and not have role models that actually look like them,” said Mario, chief impact officer at Profound Gentlemen. “That’s how we started to get the snowball rolling around why male teachers of color matter.”
In 2014, Jason and Mario started Profound Gentlemen, a nonprofit focused on building a community of male educators of color – from pre-K through high school – who can provide a profound impact on boys and young men of color. The nonprofit provides teachers of color with opportunities for professional growth, character development and community leadership through local retreats, area conferences and cohorts guided by impact leaders.
“We thought about how to implement systems in place to keep teachers in the classroom and give them the resources so that every single year they come back to the class better prepared to impact students,” said Jason, executive director of Profound Gentlemen.
For two consecutive years, Profound Gentlemen has been a grantee of Unite Charlotte, a program led by United Way of Central Carolinas that provides early funding for local nonprofits and grassroots organizations focused on improving racial equity and increasing social capital.
Profound Gentlemen hires people who’ve been teaching for at least five years to serve as impact leaders for cohorts of teachers. There are three cohorts in Charlotte with a total of 60-plus teachers. Through supporting and retaining male teachers of color in Charlotte as well as across the nation, the nonprofit aims to increase the self-esteem and academic achievement of boys of color.
“We want all kids to have experiences where they interact with a teacher where they can say, ‘That’s my favorite teacher,’” Jason said. “There’s studies that show that having a teacher like that and having a role model in the classroom definitely supports kids’ academic progress.”
Today, Profound Gentlemen supports a growing membership of more than 250 educators in five cities – Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
As the nonprofit continues to expand its resources for educators, it intends to build upon a pilot program started in 2017 that gives seed funding to teachers to start community-based programs or projects in their schools. In the first year the program financially assisted four teachers to develop a bully prevention campaign, poetry club and step team at their respective schools.
During the 2019 fiscal year, the nonprofit will select 10 more male educators of color for the program using grant money from Unite Charlotte. Each educator will receive coaching, funding and one-on-one support to engage students in projects that address issues of civic engagement, social capital, education equity and racial inclusion. Each project will be led by students with teacher support.
“Education is the foundation for everything. Unite Charlotte has allowed us to really grow in our programming and continue to do our work at a deeper level,” Mario said. “Because of that more gentlemen have been impacted by the work. They have been able to go from teaching to leading people.”