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Why “You Being You,” Matters for Pathways Fellows

Jael Baez

 

Founded in 2016 in partnership with NYC Men Teach, the Pathways Fellowship is a ten-month program designed to recruit and support men of color who are interested in careers as teachers in New York City schools. The second cohort celebrated their graduation at LinkedIn's NYC offices June 27. Below is the commencement address given by educator and Pathways mentor at the Highbridge Green School, Jael Baez.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT EXPANDED SCHOOLS PATHWAYS PROGRAMS HERE.

 

Keynote speaker and Pathways Mentor Jael Baez speaking with Pathways graduates Erik Urena and Joel Nuñez.

 

“You Being You,” is a Gift to Kids

By Jael Baez

 

A wise man once said—and by a wise man, I’m really referring to an 11-year old sixth grade boy—, “…sometimes I wish I had someone that I could call my dad and who could teach me things about life.”

 

We are all here tonight because we have a dream about how we want to impact our youth, and in turn, the future of our nation and our people. We have all seen great potential and hope in these kids and we have decided to be a part of that growth.

 

As men of color we can understand their experiences in ways that others cannot. We know that our connection to their experiences can be significant in their shaping. We know how we view them and what we can do for them— but rarely are we fully aware of how they view us or what we mean to them. That little boy was looking for more than a teacher, he was thirsty for someone who looked like him, someone he could trust and rely on for guidance, and in some ways—given his personal history— affection.

 

You are all going to move along different paths in your career in education. Whether you become teachers, deans, after school directors, or guidance counselors, I am sure that the skill and dedication you will give to your profession is going to impact kids. But regardless of how awesome you will be in your careers on the basis of what you do, never underestimate your impact on kids because of who you are.

 

At the end of the day, I could not fully replace the role of a father to that little 6th grade boy. No one could or can. I was an 8th grade teacher, so I never had him in my class. But, as the only Latino male teacher in that school in the South Bronx, he was drawn to me. I talked to him, gave him advice, and gave him a strong talking to whenever he was up to trouble. I hope I was a role model for him as well. I could not reach him with my teaching, but I was able to reach him just by being me. So, remember, you being you is a gift that each one of you will be able to give.

 

 

“His advice helped me to build the social capital necessary to fight the battles that really matter.”

 

 

Girls, Too

 

Don’t think for a second that you are only relevant to our boys. That’s the second thing that I wish someone had told me sooner. As men of color going into education people will try to put you in this box, implying that what you have to offer is only impactful to young men who lack a father figure. Believe me when I say, our role is extremely important for our young girls as well. It is important for them to see what true respect for women looks like. It is important for our young girls to internalize what they should be demanding of all the men in their lives. By no means am I talking about being condescending, pandering, or patronizing—on the contrary. I’m talking about how we empower them just as much as we empower the boys. It’s important they see us working alongside our brother and sister teachers as we validate their feelings and let them know that they have a claim to this world as they grow into young women. Our boys should see through our example, day in and day out, their liberation as young men is directly tied to the liberation of our girls as young women.

 

I know we’re all talented people and that we have earned the respect of the world based on our actions. But, let’s recognize that this program and your journey is premised on the undeniable truth that our very existence in front of these kids matters. You being you is a great gift, one that each one you will be able to give to the children who need it the most.

 

The last thing I want to impart—because it would be irresponsible of me if I did not— is about the workplace, and what it could mean for people like us.

 

 Above All Else We Are Educators

 

Like you, I had a mentor while becoming an educator. He was an older man of color who took me under his wing. He would say something to me that would leave me all sorts of confused, he would tell me, “Remember to always play the game…but with integrity.” One time, we got into a fight. I thought he was telling me that I should “sell out my values” or become a “doormat.”  That’s when he shut me down. He looked me straight in the eyes, with an intensity I had never seen before, and said, “There will be plenty of times to make a stand, but this is not the hill you want to die on. Until you start working in a hippie school where they don’t care about these sorts of things, I need you to keep playing the game, but with integrity! When you do get to that hippie school, you’ll still be playing the game, it’ll just be different rules… and you will have to have integrity then too!”

 

I asked him, “What do you even mean by integrity?” He replied “Whatever is in true service of the kids. It’s always about the kids.”  That’s when his point became clear to me. By no means was he telling me to be a “doormat” or a “sellout”— on the contrary. His advice helped me to build the social capital necessary to fight the battles that really matter based on what’s best for the kids. For, above all else, I am an educator.

 

Our field of education can still be a pretty political place, and many times you will find yourselves at personal and professional crossroads where you will have to pick your battles. You cannot engage in every single one, no matter how unfair or unjust things may be. Sometimes it’s simple, cut and dry. At other times it will be difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.

 

I was speaking earlier about the importance of you being you, and how that impacts kids. However, that can easily turn into being “the guy in school who talks to the black kids so no one else has to deal with them.” Or, you might find yourself in a place where they are so excited to have you on the team they will over-promote and pile on every single “black” or “brown” initiative, regardless of your readiness. These crossroads will be inevitable, messy, and difficult to navigate. Only you can decide what’s best for you. But the one thing that I can tell you, from my experience with politics in the workplace, is to not be afraid of playing the game. Hey, as men of color we play the game every day in our lives. Just remember to always do it with integrity—and integrity to us means “putting our kids before anything else!” For, we are first and foremost, educators.

 

And with that my brothers and sisters, thank you for allowing me to speak to you tonight. I am looking forward to having you all as allies in our fight for a better world for our kids. And please remember−your existence in the classroom is the greatest gift that you can give to our black and brown kids, especially those who need us the most. Thank you.

 

 

 Pathways Fellow & graduate Roger Davy.

 

The Pathways Fellowship would like to thank our partners at NYC Men Teach, the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality and the Friends Employment Society. We would also like to thank the Child Center of NY @ Queens United Middle School, the Educational Alliance @ PS 64, PS 188 and Tompkins Square MS, Morningside Center @ IS 214, Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation @ PS/IS 116 & PS 308, University Settlement @ IS 340 and WHEDco @ The Highbridge Green School.

 If you would like to donate to the Pathways Fellows Program:

 

 

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