My Journey as a Black Entrepreneur in Education

Guest post by Jason Terrell, executive director, Profound Gentlemen

Let me tell you a story about how my entrepreneurial streak was fully actualized in the classroom, and how NewSchools Venture Fund funded my passion. With an investment through NewSchools’ Diverse Leaders portfolio, I got the funding I needed to better support and empower male educators of color.

And, if you think you might have what it takes to follow your own entrepreneurial dream, read on. Maybe NewSchools can support you, too. In fact, they just closed their latest open funding opportunity a few days ago, and I can’t wait to see the great entrepreneurial minds that will be funded in their next cohort.

I’m a social entrepreneur. And I must admit, I am pretty new to the nonprofit and social innovation scene, but I’m not new to the concept of entrepreneurship. Growing up in Atlanta, I am used to seeing folks tap into their entrepreneurial spirit to get by. Kids might be selling water off the I-20 Exit towards West End and aspiring music entrepreneurs are always looking for investors to buy and distribute a mixtape. Entrepreneurship has always been all around me. My grandfather owned a printing business in Atlanta, and my father has been self-employed, running an appraisal company since I was 10. The concept of ownership, self-sufficiency and supporting the community through business was instilled in me at an early age. I just had to find my own path to it.

I got my first taste of entrepreneurship in 7th grade. I was the candy man, selling sweet treats out of my locker between classes. If you saw kids walking around with blow pops, that was probably because of me. Although the candy business ended quickly, it taught me a lot about ownership. I learned that I needed a few things…like a team to split responsibilities, a clear cost strategy to ensure profitability and a business license because I kept getting caught.

My second venture, a car wash and lawn service called “Clean Cutz & Cars” had a company name, fliers, a team and a good profit margin. I had extra money to buy chips and soda for my friends during lunch, but no passion for lawn care So I quit that, too.

Many years later, I discovered a way to combine my entrepreneurial drive with my love of community. It began in the classroom. Teaching became my heart and I found my identity through my students. I taught middle school English for three years in North Charlotte, coached football and baseball, and worked endlessly to ensure my kids were exposed to both John Steinbeck and Tupac Shakur.

On day one, I quickly noticed my students, especially the young men, naturally gravitated to me. I would get subtle questions like, “Mr. T, why do you want to teach us?” Or, “Mr. T, what is college like and did you always want to go?” “Mr. T, do you own a pair of J’s?” I always took the time to answer their questions and dispel any myths. Then it hit me. There were only a handful of male teachers of color in my school Each of us coached and served as mentors and father figures to our male students. Unfortunately, it was not enough, so I began data digging to find out why.

I learned two interesting facts. First, nationally less than 2 percent of all teachers are men of color. Second, and even more staggering, men of color leave the education profession at a rate 25 percent higher than any other demographic group. Although countless men enter the classroom every year ready to make an impact, their careers are short lived because isolation, inadequate development and barriers to career ladders leave them feeling stuck. In 2014, I co-founded Profound Gentlemen to help these men who have dedicated their lives to serving students get unstuck.

In 2017, we were accepted into NewSchools’ Diverse Leaders portfolio. This experience gave us the space to ask tough questions about strategy and scale and receive support from the NewSchools team. It also placed us in a room of amazing entrepreneurs, funders, and advocates who believe in black and brown leadership. The experience pushed Profound Gentlemen to reshape our national strategy to retain and develop more than 400 male educators of color across the country in fiscal year 2018.

Jason Terrell began his journey as an 8th-grade teacher in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools through Teach for America. In the classroom, Jason served as a mentor, athletic coach, and tutor and was deeply invested in his students’ pursuit of academic and personal success. Jason has been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 as one of the world’s brightest social innovators who seeks to bring about change and equal opportunity for boys and male educators of color.

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