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In the realm of education, representation matters. The University of Illinois at Chicago is aiming to increase the number of Black and Latino male teachers within Chicago’s public school system, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The institution is participating in a program dubbed Call Me MISTER which is designed to empower college students of color to explore careers in education and put them on track to become elementary school teachers in areas where schools lack diversity amongst their staff, the news outlet writes. The program has been in existence for 18 years and has been introduced to over 30 schools across the country, the news outlet writes. UIC is the largest urban school to participate in the project. As part of the program, participants receive free room and board and their tuition is covered.

There is a major need to increase racial representation in Chicago schools. According to the news outlet, 84 percent of students within the city’s public schools are Black and Latino but 42.7 percent of its educators are people of color. Many program participants say that they were inspired to join Call Me MISTER due to their own educational experiences and the lack of diversity that they witnessed among teachers while in grade school.

“I’ve only had one Black teacher in my life. It was something I was used to, but as I’ve grown older, I realized that it is pretty weird that Black men weren’t in my field,” 19-year-old UIC student Jawaun Williams told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Teachers taught me how to navigate, not only high school, but life. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher. As soon as I graduate I want to go back to the South Side of Chicago, and teach in the same neighborhood I came out of.” UIC’s dean of College of Education Alfred Tatum says that he hopes the program can help diminish the perception that teaching is a profession for women only, stating that boys in Chicago “need to see men of color who embrace teaching as a profession.”

There has been a major push to get more African-American and Latino male teachers in public school classrooms. In 2017, New York City unveiled a three-year initiative dubbed NYC Men Teach to help men of color through the entire teaching certification process and provide them with mentorship and training needed to transition into the field of education.

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