Mario Jovan Shaw was sitting in front of his seventh-grade students when one of them said he had never had a teacher like Shaw before.
Some might be flattered by that statement, but Shaw was concerned.
He realized that young boy had never had a black man as a teacher....
“Without seeing people who look like you and mirror what success looks like, you never believe that you can actually do anything outside the stereotypes,” said Shaw.
That’s when he decided he need to take his passion for teaching beyond one classroom in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The 27-year-old University of Cincinnati graduate built a community of more than 150 black male educators who are working to dismantle the “cradle to prison pipeline” of young boys of color.
The organization, Profound Gentlemen, is developing a “cradle to career pipeline” for boys to get them college and career ready.
Shaw and co-founder Jason Terrell were recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs list.
What started as a blog by two friends in Teach for America has turned into an education-based nonprofit that operates in six regional communities, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Memphis, and represents 26 states.
Shaw said mentorship is key because students easily fall into the lifestyle they see in media, which is often littered with drugs and violence. Profound Gentlemen encourages black men to pursue teaching careers and act as role models for young boys of color.
“When they have a black male teacher in front of them and mentoring them, it allows them to see that their potential is limitless,” Shaw said.
Shaw saw that potential for himself while he was a student at UC.
When he arrived on campus in 2007, he knew he had a passion for education because he had interned as a teacher in high school. He grew up in Cleveland with mostly black students in his classes, but when he got to UC that changed.
He was the only black man in his cohort in the education department. That stuck with him.
Shaw ended up switching majors to communication and Africana studies, but his professor, Paul Abercrumbie, reminded him of the importance of black male teachers.
Shaw was the first person in his family to go to college and the support he got from Abercrumbie and other professors at UC made a profound impact on his success. He was president of the United Black Student Association and a member of the Collegiate 100, a group promoting the intellectual development of the African-American community. Shaw served as a mentor to dozens of younger students and worked with the administration to improve the African American Cultural Resource Center.
He said he found a fulfillment in helping them get to the next level in their life and discover their purpose. Shaw's experiences as a UC student made him want to be that positive influence for young black men outside Cincinnati.
Shaw became the first black male from the university accepted into Teach For America. After graduation in 2012, he started teaching seventh grade in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina.
There, he started an after-school group to help his students navigate growing up as a young black man.
“I love the character development,” Shaw said. “I help people develop holistically rather than just instructionally.”
It was in that group that Shaw’s students told him they hadn’t had a black teacher before.
He was determined to change that for the next generation and saw creating a nonprofit as the best way to do that.
So, he isn’t standing up in front of a chalkboard diagramming sentences anymore. He’s “on the ground supporting educators” through advocacy and professional development.
“I know what it means to support teachers because I know what it feels like to be one,” Shaw said. “I have more of an impact through this organization than in just one classroom.”