By Nathan Woods
The great Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And, as I read those words, I feel a sense of empowerment. As I look around our nation in its current state I believe the words of Mr. Mandela to remain true. Our society has begun to tread down a road in which it seems almost popular to be uninformed as well as unengaged. We can never allow normalization of such behavior because an informed populace will always be a powerful one. As educators, we are the true vanguards of the revolution. The revolution is one in which the words of Malcolm X come to mind, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” As the vanguard we have a responsibility to prepare students with the most powerful weapon ever known to civilization: an education.
As a teacher, there is one question that I get asked all of the time from my students – “Mr. Woods, why did you become a teacher? You could have been anything, but you wanted to be a teacher?” My response is always this, “As a Black man from Washington, DC, it’s important for me to teach young people who look like me to ensure that they are getting the best education that they deserve.”
My own story is a reflection of exactly this. It is why I wake up each and every day with the realization in mind that the public interest will always and must always trump our private comforts. In my students I see Trayvon Martin; In my students, I see Rekia Boyd; In my students, I see Michael Brown, ready to be armed with the weapon of knowledge. In my students I see Amandla Stenberg ; In my students I see Yara Shahidi, In my students I see Willow Smith, ready to stand up and speak out as new generation of leaders who will solve the difficult issues of our time; as the doctors who will cure that infectious disease; as the musicians who will serenade us with angelic audio art, giving us just a taste of what heaven feels like here on Earth.
While in school, I didn’t see too many people who looked like me standing in front of the classroom and that often left me uninspired. There were so many white women and men who told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, but that meant very little coming from them. They didn’t understand my situation, they don’t know what it is like to be a young black man living in SE DC, so how can they tell me that I can be whatever I wanted to be if I just worked hard and persevered. Because I didn’t have any Black teachers, I felt it morally imperative that I become one myself and help so many others climb the mountain to a choice-filled life.
Black teachers are important.
It’s important for our students to see men and women who look like them and inspire them to be the best that they can be. Moreover, it’s imperative for people of color to heed the charge to help to build a better tomorrow for generations to come.