Four years ago, I was given an opportunity atypical for my age. I was 27, and I was named principal of a middle school. The appointment came just five years into my teaching career.
I did not know at the time, but I now had an important obligation. As a principal, you always have an obligation to your school, students, and families. For me, I was a black man, and I had risen to the top of the profession. As everyone knows, there is a lack of black males in education, so it is even rarer for you to see a black male become a principal, especially before the age of 30.
This school year, my fourth as a school leader, I have done a lot of reflecting on my impact as a principal. I am more aware than ever of my stance and presence as a principal. I have to look at what I am doing as a principal and think about how others are watching.
They are watching to see if hiring a young black man was the right move to make. I am thinking more about how I have to make sure I set an example that all black male leaders can follow. I know I have an obligation to do well as a principal. I must be seen as a leader. I must be recognized as an academic leader because we know far too often black men get pigeonholed in a discipline and culture role. As a principal, I have to be seen as an academic leader to break the stereotype that black men do not know academics or instruction.
I must give someone else the opportunity that was given to me. I learned something early in my career that if you ever make it to the top that you have to send the elevator back down. Someone saw something in me that said I could become a leader of a school. Now, I look at the black men that work under me, and I’m trying to put them in similar situations.
I must find the next generation of black leaders. I have to ensure the same way I was mentored and trained that I do the same for someone else. I take my role now as a principal and also a mentor. It seems weird to me that in only my fourth year, I am now a mentor. But to ensure that black men continue to get opportunities to lead, I must help usher in the next wave.
This fourth year as a principal has started differently than any other. I have been challenged not just in my professional life, but also in my personal life. In this role as a principal, I have an obligation not to mess up the opportunity I was given. If I mess up, then I can impact those that come underneath me.
As a black male, I do not get the same advantage that many white colleagues have as principal. Eyes are watching me a little closer, and I have to be sure that I carry myself with the utmost integrity because my failures could result in a lost opportunity for another black male leader on the rise.
I take on this obligation, and I embrace it. I welcome it because I know that many are counting on me to be successful. The same way that others before me excelled, I know I have to shine as well. Someone else is waiting to write their story as a leader, and I have to help them author their own journey as those before me allowed me to author my journey.
This post originally ran with the title “A Black Leader’s Obligation” on the Indy K12 Education Blog here.