Today’s “Millennial on a Mission” (and the last one of 2014!)is an educator that has brought his passion for mentoring and personal style into the classroom. Daily, he instills in his students (particularly young black males) the importance dressing for success, and taking full advantage of their education.
I’d like for you to meet Bruce Burks.
Hailing from Louisville, Alabama, Bruce attended the Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama where he studied elementary education with a dual certification in early childhood. Initially, Bruce wanted to pursue the medical field and become a pediatrician. But after graduating from high school at the top of his class, he wasn’t as prepared in math and science as he thought he would be upon entering college. “I had to make a choice: get tutored and push through, or change my major and not allow another young man who looked like me have his dream deferred,” Bruce recalls. “With that being said, I majored in Elementary Education and vowed to combat the statistics and build the fundamentals of Math and Science for children.”
CC: Why do you think it is important for more black male teachers to be inside of the classroom?
BB: The reason is very simple, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” So many times, it is said black boys want to be rappers or athletes because when they turn on the television, that’s what they see. And I’m not discrediting these careers — if they provide a positive image. However, if more black male teachers were in our nation’s classrooms, it would dramatically alter children’s aspirations. It stems down to the basics: having a positive male figure in your life, particularly one that looks like you and understands your everyday struggle, means everything to a student.
CC: Who and what inspired you to begin the mentoring program Books & Bow Ties, and how have you found the connection between literacy and personal style?
BB: As I began my teaching career, I noticed that a lot of young men didn’t know how to tie a tie, nor had they seen a bow tie before. I always tie my tie in the morning in front of my students, they really became interested in the ties and asked questions about them. So that’s how the bow ties portion came into play. However, the books portion came from understanding that an illiterate male is more likely to have a harder time achieving his goals in life due to not being able to read adequately or on grade level. Books & Bow Ties Mentoring is actually a STEAM-based literacy program focusing on science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics, with a slice of African-American Studies, foreign language and culinary arts.
The connection of literacy and my own personal style go hand in hand, and was inspired by the men in my family. Brothers who are educated and yet possess their own sense of “educated clean.” As a kid, I saw a lot of brothers in bowties, and I thought of them as very intellectual. Even though I know that the power of the mind didn’t lie in a bow tie, I always associated intellect with the bow ties due to those positive brothers. I was raised to know that a “well dressed man is a more confident man, and a more confident man is a more productive man.”
To Bruce, being a “Millennial on a Mission” means to be a person who is focused on altering the thought process, confidence, character and lifestyle of individuals of today’s time. “Everyday, I strive to achieve my goals through prayer, intimacy with God, daily adjustment of my craft, procedures, routines, and reflection,” he says. His one piece of advice for his fellow millennial educators? Seek mentorship from other educators who have been where you are, and who truly care about your well-being and success. “Consistently work to better your craft, and learn new ways to engage students on the changes of technology and education.”