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Washtenaw United: 'Black Men Read' Program Changes Lives and Perceptions

Washtenaw United
David Fair
89.1 WEMU

The mission of the Ypsilanti-based 'Black Men Read' program is clearly stated: "We exist to promote the power of stories, storytelling and literacy to children in order to normalize the historical and cultural contributions of Black people throughout the diaspora, uplifting Black men and all of the ways that they engage in their families and communities while disrupting tropes of Black father absenteeism."  In this week's 'Washtenaw United,' you'll find out why the program is changing dynamics throughout the entirety of the community.  

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Background on Black Men Read

Countless research and data illuminate the disparate number of teachers of color in the US.  The challenge of diverse teaching professionals exists in Washtenaw County as well.  So does a nearly 50 year opportunity gap for Black and Brown students.  In 2018, WalletHub ranked Ann Arbor as the most educated city in the world. In the same report that ranked 150 cities across the globe, our community ranked 138 out of 150 for our racial achievement gap. 

According to a report published by Johns Hopkins University, if a black student has just one black teacher by third grade, that student is 13 percent more likely to enroll in college – those who had two black teachers were 32 percent more likely.  This bolsters the research team’s 2017 study that found a low-income black student’s probability of dropping out of high school is reduced by 29 percent if that student has one black teacher in grades 3-5. 

Data like this and their own quest for culturally competent learning opportunities for their kids, inspired two area Moms to launch Black Men Read.  In 2016, one of the mom's, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, received a call from her son's teacher asking if she knew any Black men who could come to his class for story time.  The teacher, Chuck Hamiliton (retired), explained that he was concerned that there were no Black men in the school in leadership or teaching roles and many of his parents worked during the school day and couldn't volunteer for story time.  It was Black History Month and he desperately wanted the children to hear stories that celebrated this important time from men who looked like them (the school's student population is nearly 80% non-white).  Yodit, along with another mom, Tamara Tucker-Ibarisha, reached out to their networks and the response was resounding.  That encounter became the catalyst for Black Men Read. 

Black Men Read's vision is that children love reading and have fully embraced reading as an opportunity to take hold of their world.  In our vision, we imagine a world where people honor and appreciate difference and embrace multiple truths about the human experience.  Therefore, the BMR experience will inspire a desire for more knowledge of each other and our uniquely rich cultures, heritage and histories.  We exist to promote the power of stories, storytelling and literacy to children in order to normalize the historical and cultural contributions of Black people throughout the diaspora, uplifting Black men and all of the ways that they engage in their families and communities while disrupting tropes of Black father absenteeism. 

We operationalize our mission and vision through story time events at schools, community centers, local venues and libraries through interactive book readings, read by Black men, to children of all backgrounds and identities.  We know that there is a correlation between the presence of teachers of color in the classroom and school building and student achievement.  BMR is a stop gap until there are more teachers and administrators of color in every school in Washtenaw County where there is a majority POC student population. 

About Dr. Tamara Tucker-Ibarisha

Dr. Tamara Tucker-Ibarisha is a Michigan native who lives in Ypsilanti with her husband and two daughters age 6 and 8.  She holds a doctorate in Cell and Molecular biology from the University of Michigan and is a biology lecturer at Eastern Michigan University.  She is the creator of Savvy Science, a STEM outreach program, and co-creator of The Akoma Portal, an online network designed to cultivate love and connectivity within the Black community.  She is also the co-founder of Black Men Read, a literacy initiative that uses stories to celebrate the historical and cultural experiences of Black people while uplifting Black men and all of the ways that they engage in their families, communities, and the society at large.  In her spare time she enjoys traveling and dancing as a member of the Bichini Bia Congo Dance Theater Company.

About Darryl Johnson

Minister Darryl L. Johnson’s personal mission is to manifest God's love to the world through his life, and to seek God in all he does — To always work on his character!  To mentor, organize and administer his life according to the values and goals that God has revealed.  Darryl is a proud husband and father of five biological children and one grandson.  He is proud of his three Ann Arbor Public School graduates, one of which will be attending the University of Michigan to obtain her Masters.  Two daughters remain in Ann Arbor Public Schools and will graduate in 2020 and 2025.
Minister Johnson moved to Ann Arbor in 2003 and has been involved with the Black Parents and Student Support Group for many of those years.  He is very involved in several community efforts.  He is on the Board of Directors for Mentor2Youth, a local 501 (c)3 that is committed to empowering youth to excel in life, academics and work.  He sits on the steering committee of Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper, a county-wide transformation and youth empowerment collaborative.  He is a proud reader for the local organization Black Men Read.

Minister Johnson was born in Kansas City, Missouri (hence a Chief’s fan).  He settled in San Diego after a 3 year stint in the Marine Corps.  Minister Johnson came into the ministry under the tutelage of the late Reverend Forrest Hancock, Sr., Pastor and Founder of Freewill Missionary Baptist Church in Linda Vista, CA in December of 1990.  He has since served in several churches, Phillips Temple, C.M.E. (San Diego), Isom Memorial, C.M.E. (Belleville), St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church (Ann Arbor) and currently serves under Reverend William J. Powell, Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church House of Solutions (Ypsilanti) where Minister Johnson currently resides.


United Way of Washtenaw County

Black Men Read

"Teachers of Color: In High Demand and Short Supply"

"A Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell: Revisiting Brown v. Board"

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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