Graduating Liberal Studies major Homer Jones student-teaches an eighth-grade physical science class. One day, while trying to get to know one of his students, he decided to “be real” with them, “I said, do you even like school? And he said no. I asked why?” Jones grew up studying performance art and, when he tells the story, he channels the student’s inner fire with his eyes, “He said, I just don’t like school. And so I said, what do you like? He said, I like baseball. I said, do you play baseball? He was like, yeah. I said, okay. Check this out. Next week, I’ve got something for you.”
The next time Jones came to class, he brought a baseball bat and gave it to student. “I said, every time you’re sitting in my class and you feel bored, I want you to grab the baseball bat, and I want you to play with it.” From that day forward, the student began to draw connections between physical science and his love of baseball.
Homer knows how to make these kinds of connections because, years ago, someone made a similar connection with him.
He had just come back from singing at a concert with his Central High School chorus group when he got a visit from someone representing Georgia College who was seeking out talented African-American men with an interest in education for a program that would foster male role models for K – 12 students within the Black community. “I was like, ‘I just came back from a concert. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t know he was coming, but okay. We can talk.’ And then we spent pretty much the whole day in the counselor’s office talking.”
The program, the first of its kind in Georgia, was called Call Me MiSTER.
Jones’s fellow graduating MiSTER, Brian Bowman, has a similar story of that same man asking around for him like Professor Charles Xavier from “The X-Men”, recruiting a league of talented youngsters with special powers who will later save the world.
“I was working at an elementary school in my hometown,” says Bowman, “and someone who worked at Georgia College asked me, have I heard of the Call Me MiSTER program? And I said, no. Once I read up on the mission and the aims of the program, I knew it was where I needed to be.”
This real-life Professor Xavier is Dr. Emmanuel Little, and these special powers are the power of education. This graduation marks the fourth year since the inception of the Call Me MiSTER program and now it’s time to begin the program’s real mission: changing the world.
“I think that Call Me MiSTER has brought about a desire to shift the paradigm of education,” says Little, “We talk all the time in diversity and inclusion circles about being the change you wish to see, being the change agent, so to speak. And, I think, Call Me MiSTER is a very tangible representation of exactly what that is.”
Of the eight overall MiSTERs originally in the program, two graduated last spring and this week will see three more graduates out of the inaugural Fall 2015 cohort of four MiSTERs. Seniors Homer Jones, Brian Bowman, and Seabon Davis are set to walk across the Centennial Center stage to receive their diplomas. This marks a 75 percent four-year graduation rate for MiSTERs at GC, despite the challenges of being Black males at a predominantly white campus, particularly when it comes to pursuing teaching careers.
“This is a program that takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of resources,” says Little, “but that’s because the intended impact is so vast. It’s bigger than the three or four MiSTERs that are graduating. It’s the students they’re going to serve and the waves of impact that they’re going to have on their classrooms, so it’s really a generational undertaking. Imagine one MiSTER having a classroom of 25 students each year and changing their lives. Think about that impact multiplied over decades until retirement, then imagine that multiplied again as more MiSTERs enter teaching careers here in Georgia. It’s mind blowing.”
Both Seabon Davis and Brian Bowman already have jobs lined up teaching at Mattie Wells Elementary in Jones County, and will be the only African-American male teachers there.
“Most people, in general, regardless of gender, or race, aren’t entering the educational field,” says Davis, “but when you add on top of that men, that cuts out about 90 percent, so it can be very challenging.” With Jones already accepted into GC’s MAT program, the differences that each of these three graduates make will impact GC both directly and indirectly.
Call Me MiSTER started at Clemson University in South Carolina nearly 20 years ago, and has steadily created the kinds of connections necessary to make a difference across the country. Bowman describes the first time he went to the Leadership Institute at Clemson and heard over 100 Black male educators recite the mission statement of Call Me MiSTER in unison. “I got goosebumps all over my body,” Bowman says, “and I said, this is what I want to be a part of!” Now he is poised to teach at his former elementary school. Bowman is honored to give back to the community which has poured so much into him.
Jones recalls a similar cycle. When he was doing panel interviews as a first-year at GC, Little asked a strange question, “If you could be any part of a tree, which part would you be and why?”
Jones was befuddled, “I was like, I don’t know. I’m in high school. I don’t really have an answer to that. I don’t know what it means.” Little told him to take some time to think of an answer. “After roughly five minutes of thinking, I told him that I would be the root of the tree, and because the roots of the tree, they provide the nutrients. They provide life to the tree, and everything comes from the roots.”
Four years later, when asked that same question, Little laughs and thinks about it for a long time as well. “I mean, if I were going to be a part of a tree,” he says, “ I would probably be the roots, I would say. Just because when it comes to providing a foundation, the rest of the tree cannot exist without being firmly rooted in the ground. And what I try to do in my current role is to be those roots for the young men in these programs.”
For a program like Call Me MiSTER to grow strong, it needs to have many roots and, as the first graduating cohort branch out from GC to broaden their connections to other developing minds, they help broaden the program. Last year, Call Me MiSTER had $5,000 dollars in financial assistance from Georgia Power to offer its MiSTERs. This upcoming year, thanks to a renewed partnership, it will have $10,000. This, in addition to the $75,000 received from the Betty & Davis Fitzgerald Foundation in 2016.
Four years ago, there was only one man in Georgia devoted to the mission of Call Me MiSTER. The tree had only a single root. Now, with Seabon Davis, Homer Jones, and Brian Bowman graduating, along with Jerome Brown who graduated last semester is now teaching at Wilkinson County, the tree has five roots. That’s a foundation to grow on.