NEW ORLEANS—During his high-school days, no football game could start without Louis Blackmon III: the team’s center. Each play began with his snap.
Though Blackmon was renowned for his hustle on the field, he didn’t put the same effort into the classroom. “In school, I was just an average guy,” Blackmon said. Typically, he pulled Cs, with a few Ds, at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans.
That led to heartbreak his senior year, when his ACT scores came back a few points below college-entrance standards. Almost overnight, he lost the attention of college scouts, who had told him he was a prime candidate for an athletic scholarship.
Yet today, Blackmon, now 21, is a standout student at Southern University at New Orleans, in the Honoré Center for Undergraduate Achievement, an intensive new program that gives full scholarships to young African American men who show promise despite unremarkable transcripts.
All of the program’s participants, known as “Honoré Men,” study to become teachers—because the program’s founders believe that promising young men who grew up in tough circumstances are uniquely equipped to connect in classrooms with youth facing similar challenges.
The Honoré Center is one of a small but growing number of specialized programs aimed at boosting the number of black male schoolteachers, who make up roughly 2 percent of the nation’s teaching force.
The best-known example of this new approach to teacher training is South Carolina’s Call Me MISTER program (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models), which began in 2000 at Clemson University. Last year, a group of four small colleges and universities in Pennsylvania launched their own Black Men Teaching Initiative, which grooms black-male high-school students and teaching assistants to be teachers. Meanwhile, the Teacher Quality and Retention Program, run since 2009 by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the recently formed Boston Teacher Residency Male Teachers of Color Network, aim to support existing black male teachers, who are more likely to leave the profession.