MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In 2017, a state report showed that of the nearly 64,000 teachers in Minnesota, 875 were black.

That’s less than 2%. And there are even fewer black men in our classrooms.

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But the Black Men Teach organization is committed to changing that.

There’s nothing unusual about Markus Flynn’s fifth grade science lesson today. But the fact that he’s the one teaching it is pretty rare.

“There’s very few black teachers. Nationally, only 2% of teachers are black men. In the state of Minnesota it’s even worse,” Flynn said. “So I figured if I want to make the biggest impact, have the biggest benefit on my community, the best place for me to do it was in the classroom.”

Markus Flynn (credit: CBS)

And for Flynn, the classroom is just the start. He’s also the executive director of Black Men Teach, an organization focused on building a pipeline for creating and retaining black teachers. People like Keith Durham, a junior at Hamline University and member of Black Men Teach.

“In my head, being from Minnesota, a teacher is an older Caucasian lady,” Durham said.

Durham, who grew up in St. Paul and Woodbury, says he never liked school, but looking back he thinks it’s because no one understood what was going on outside of the classroom.

“When I was in second grade my dad went to prison,” Durham said. “It would’ve been a big push for me to actually focus on school and somebody to tell me, like, you don’t need to just play basketball or be a rapper, like, there’s actual jobs out here that are in need of your services.”

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“It’s hard to make an argument that there’s anything more important to the success of black students than black teachers,” Flynn said.

The impact is tangible. Research shows that students who have two black male teachers in elementary school are 32% more likely to enroll in college.

Black students who’d had just one black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college—and those who’d had two were 32% more likely. The findings, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and American University, were published in a working paper titled “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“One black teacher by third grade can decrease the likelihood of a student dropping out of high school by almost 40%,” Flynn said. “Relationships are so important in education and I think that’s the thing we have to focus on.”

And those relationships are important for white students as well.

“Students who don’t identify as black, it helps them rethink their understanding of what black men are in society,” Flynn said.

“Just having that simple saying of you can do it and you can achieve something I think does tremendous work,” Durham said.

“It creates generational change, generational impact,” Flynn said.

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Black Men Teach works to place men in eight local partner schools. The goal is to have 20% of the teachers in those schools be black men in the next five years.

Erin Hassanzadeh