H.O.P.E. to host forum about bringing more Black teachers to Niles

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, February 27, 2019

NILES — A local organization with the mission to bring community issues to the forefront will host a forum called, Black Teachers: Do we need more in Niles?

The event will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at the Bell Building 305 N. Third St. in Niles. A panel will present information and help to lead the discussion. Community members are invited to attend, share their experiences, ask questions or provide feedback. The forum will be hosted by Helping Our People Evolve.

Douglas Freeman and Beverly Woodson are members of H.O.P.E. Before starting the club, they were members of the NAACP and researched the organization’s education standing committee. The NAACP has since dissolved, which motivated Woodson and Freeman to create H.O.P.E.

At the upcoming forum, Freeman hopes to get feedback from residents.

“We just wanted to have this community to raise the flag and say ‘what can we do?’” Freeman said.

While the event is free and open to the public, Freeman said they also invited current school board members, as well as former school board members and teachers to participate, too. In addition to discussing how they can get more Black teachers in the district, Woodson said she also hopes to get feedback on more programs that teach Black History, as well as other roles in the schools, like more counselors.

Woodson said she believes it is important for students to have African American teachers to look up to in their classrooms.

“Students in the school need to someone who looks like them that they can relate to,” Woodson said.

Woodson added that she appreciates the efforts of teachers of all colors that are in the district today, but hopes to see more diversity.

Niles Community School Superintendent Dan Applegate said that he spoke with Freeman about the upcoming forum. According to Applegate, out of roughly 212 teachers in the Niles district only six are African American.

“We have the same goal,” Applegate said. “We want to increase the diversity of our staff.”

Applegate said the district has sought to bring more African American teachers to Niles by having school board members visit career fairs and Wayne State University, which has a high population of African Americans, to recruit teachers. Part of the challenge, Applegate said, is the teacher shortage in general and the fact that between 2.1 to 2.7 percent of teaching graduates in the state of Michigan are African American, according to data from recent years.

“So, we are all fighting for a small population of teachers,” Applegate said.

Applegate said the district has also made efforts to work with the career technical programs and encourage Niles students to go into the teaching field and teach in the local district.

Applegate said he was glad H.O.P.E would be gathering feedback from the community.

“We are interested in anybody that wants to attract more teachers to the area 100 percent,” Applegate said. 

While Applegate has a prior obligation Friday, he hopes to encourage other members of the school board to attend the forum.

For their part, Freeman and Woodson said they hope to share their findings with members of the school board.

H.O.P.E. was formed late last year by Woodson, Freeman and Yvette Greene. The club’s effort is to spark discussion and give back to their Niles community. They have hosted a variety of events, including a voter watch party during the most recent election and partnered with Niles New Tech students to collect donations for the Mt. Calvary food pantry.

Freeman and Woodson encouraged their community to be part of the discussion.

“This is for our youth,” Freeman said.