Remembering famous African American men and women during Black History month is the usual focus during this national celebration. It’s important to remember, however, that every person has the power to make history through their positive contributions to society.

Today, I take this opportunity to honor all the African American teachers who have encouraged curious minds to discover new people and places by reading. Some teachers taught me in classrooms and helped me to develop skills in math, writing, science, and various arts. However, I most value the impact certain ones had on my life. The “gems” were those who really saw, listened to, and encouraged young people to participate through their smiles and encouraging words.

The good teachers had well-run classes where consistent rules taught cooperation, teamwork, fairness, and honesty.

We learned nonviolence – ‘keep your hands to yourself.’

We learned patience – ‘wait your turn.’

We also learned ‘there is a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking.’

In short, schools were a milieu for building characteristics that would make for safer relationships with others.

While professional educators all have collegiate or university degrees, it is also important to remember others who were role models for making wise choices and navigating the ‘pitfalls’ of life.

Thank you to the parents who read to their children and cultivate family values, to the mechanically skilled ones who share their ‘how to repair things’ knowledge, to the spiritually grounded ones who encourage sons, daughters and adopted ones to know “who they are and whose they are.”

Ordinary people can be extraordinary teachers even without college degrees.

Nonetheless, there is a growing shortage of professional teachers. More African American men and women are needed as teachers in schools, colleges, and universities. Our children need role models who look like them and can relate to their experiences and struggles.

We need teachers to learn from the past and to learn how to critically think about choices and responsibility.

To read about a teacher who is also noted as being a researcher, journalist and activist, visit the link below to learn more about Ida B Wells-Barnett:


Sister Stephanie Henry, SBS, serves as president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by St. Katharine Drexel.