In South Carolina, more African-American and Latino men will spend the night in jail than in a college dorm room.
Roy Jones, an associate professor at Clemson University, wants that to change.
Jones came to the Alumni Memorial Building on Tuesday to talk about "Call Me MISTER," a program started in Clemson, S.C., that seeks to bring more African-American males into the public school system as teachers.
"Call Me MISTER" targets low income, disabled and first generation college students and helps fund their education. In return, they do a year of service work in an at-risk area for every year they receive financial assistance in the program. Since 2004, the program has graduated 100 fully certified teachers.
"It's a commitment to equal opportunity and equity," Jones said. "We want to create a synergy around this issue that will change the climate in our public schools."
The event, sponsored by the Educational Advancement Program, is an annual lecture that the EAP brings to UT to inspire students in the program. The EAP, like "MISTER," aims to encourage and aid first-generation, low-income or disabled college students.
Jones, the executive director of the "MISTER" program at Clemson, emphasized the power of knowing one's personal history in his lecture.
"Your story is what shapes you," Jones said. "You're sitting here because of a story."
Jones began his own story with a picture of Tillman Hall at Clemson, a building named after "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, a segregationist former president of the university. He also talked about the fact that Clemson is built on John C. Calhoun's plantation land.
"Calhoun would be rolling over in his grave to see how far African-Americans have come," Jones said. "We have to begin to understand and appreciate our history, to see how others paved the way for us."
Jones quoted from the National Center for Education Statistics that while there are two million white, female teachers in American public schools, there are only 62,000 black male teachers.
Meanwhile, 82 percent of African-American students attend public schools and 60 percent of black males don't finish high school on time. For Jones, these two issues are distinctly related.
"In America, teaching is not considered a prized position, so the number of males that want to teach is decreasing," Jones said. "To add to that, our schools aren't preparing these kids to succeed or go to college."
The EAP at UT seeks to prepare those kids once they get to college. As the director of one of the nation's biggest organizations for low income, first generation college and disabled students, Ronald McFadden understands the importance of teaching, even in an increasingly technological age.
"I'm supportive of technology, but not everyone can work in that," McFadden said. "You still have to have teaching. We need more people that have the ability to show a positive image to these students."
Even with the amount of people that receive support from this program, McFadden said there is still a stigma attached to these issues. He said that no matter what you do, pride poses obstacles.
"People never want to come in thinking that they are broken," McFadden said. "But you're not by yourself with these backgrounds."
McFadden thinks that Clemson's "Call Me MISTER" program would fit in well at UT. He hopes the school embraces and institutionalizes the program, pointing out that the problem exists here as well.
Daphne Turnage, sophomore in English, shared similar sentiments. She explained that black male teachers represent more than just a role model to some students.
"They give students hope, especially ones with lacking father figures at home," she said. "... It puts hope back into the community."
The visiting Jones has written a book about his program titled "Call Me MISTER: the Re-Emergence of African American Male Teachers in South Carolina." The cover shows three young black men standing in front of an old schoolhouse built by African-American community members in the early 1900s.
"Those schoolhouses were the result of fundraising and construction by black communities that came together," Jones said. "The young men are teachers and principals.
"The cover illustrates the history and the future coming together to change the world."