“Experiencing a Black teacher’s presence in an inner-city Los Angeles school revealed to me that greatness is always attainable. It fostered a community where surpassing society’s expectations for Black individuals became commonplace.” — Brittney Samuels (UC Berkeley Graduate)

As the nation commemorates Black History Month, the spotlight is not only on celebrating the rich heritage and contributions of Black individuals but also on addressing the systemic inequalities that persist. In the US education system, one glaring issue stands out: the severe underrepresentation of Black men in the teaching profession. However, in the heart of South Los Angeles, Dr. Peter Watts and Dr. Didi Watts, a dynamic couple deeply entrenched in the world of education, have embarked on a mission to bridge this gap through their unique initiative.

Founders of the Watts of Power Foundation, the Watts couple, both seasoned educators, established their organization in 2017 with a clear vision to revolutionize education. “Its focus is to change education or the narrative around education, but it is working through the adults who work with children to make the change,” explained Didi, underscoring their holistic approach to effecting transformation.
In 2021, the Watts unveiled their flagship program, the “Teacher Village Initiative,” a visionary two-year residency program aimed explicitly at nurturing prospective Black male educators. Now in its second cohort, the initiative has already enlisted 15 dedicated men. Peter elaborated on its core objectives: “It focuses on the recruitment, retention, training, and housing of Black men who want to become teachers in schools in Los Angeles.”

The program’s strategic partnerships with Cal State University Dominguez Hills and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are pivotal. Fellows receive their credentials through Cal State, while LAUSD offers them employment upon program completion. Didi emphasized the significance of these collaborations, highlighting the assurance of job placement as a crucial factor for aspiring educators.
Data from the California Department of Education underscores the urgency of initiatives like the Teacher Village Initiative, revealing a stark reality: just one percent of teachers in the state are Black males. The Watts couple identified numerous barriers obstructing Black men from pursuing teaching, including past traumatic experiences within the education system.

Drawing on their firsthand experiences and research, the Watts recognize the profound impact of representation. “We know there’s data that suggests the importance of having access and exposure to a Black teacher,” Didi affirmed. Indeed, studies indicate that students with Black teachers exhibit improved academic outcomes and higher aspirations.

Beyond recruitment, the Teacher Village Initiative prioritizes holistic support for its fellows. Through life skills training and affordable housing provisions, the program addresses multifaceted challenges, from financial literacy to trauma healing. “We’re providing them training in financial literacy and self-care along with the components of care so that they are a whole human,” Didi explained, emphasizing the holistic approach.

The initiative’s commitment to affordable housing is particularly commendable, offering a tangible solution to the housing crisis plaguing many urban areas. Located in the vibrant West Adams neighborhood, the current housing accommodates five fellows, with plans for expansion underway. Avery, the son of the Watts, attests to the transformative impact of communal living: “Living in Los Angeles, it’s no secret it’s very expensive out here… the housing becomes affordable. It makes a huge difference for teachers.” For Avery, who serves as a physical education teacher and Athletic Director, the call to teaching resonated deeply. “Being a Black male student, it’s important to see someone that’s leading positively as yourself,” he remarked, reflecting on his journey.

Peter and Didi’s commitment extends far beyond personal aspirations, echoing a broader societal imperative. “It meant my students got to see someone who looked like them,” Didi shared, reflecting on her own teaching experiences. Their dedication has already borne fruit, with 15 program graduates serving 1,500 students and families in LAUSD. Looking ahead, the Watts envision a future where Black male educators thrive, shaping the next generation of leaders. With a long-term goal to place 113 fully credentialed Black male teachers in local schools and on the path to homeownership, the Teacher Village Initiative is a beacon of hope.

As the initiative embarks on a capital campaign to expand its housing facilities, Watts invite stakeholders to join their cause. Their message is clear: by empowering Black male educators, we empower entire communities. In a world hungry for change, the Watts of Power Foundation’s vision shines brightly, illuminating a path toward equity and excellence in education.

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