Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president, tweeted on Tuesday that he paid forward the encouragement to apply for a Rhodes scholarship that he received from his first male Black teacher. Consequently, one of his students won the prestigious scholarship last year—illustrating the importance of Black students having a Black teacher.
Jealous didn’t have a male Black teacher until his college years at Columbia University. Through the instructor’s encouragement, the civil rights activist applied for the scholarship and won. Last year, Jealous started teaching his first college course and urged his students to pursue the scholarship. Jordan Thomas, who is part of the 2018 scholarship class, was among the handful of Black students to earn the scholarship.
Black teachers are instrumental in the academic success of Black students. A teacher’s race has a significant impact on how they see their students’ potential for academic success, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University. White teachers tend to bring their racial bias about intelligence with them to classrooms.
Further research by the university found that lower-income Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and to consider attending college.
Ten African-American students were among the group of 32 undergraduate students selected from the United States to receive Rhodes scholarships for 2018—the largest number of Black students to earn the scholarship in a single Rhodes class. Scholarship recipients receive two or three expenses-paid years of study at Oxford University in England.
Jealous, who is a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, graduated from Columbia University before attending Oxford to earn a graduate degree.