I am the founder and principal of Becoming Collegiate Academy. We are Jacksonville’s newest elementary school. I started my career in education back in 2012 as a Teach for America Corps member in Jacksonville, Florida. Prior to that, I worked a desk job at State Farm and I hated it. I entered education as a substitute teacher to make extra cash while working at State Farm.
While I was substituting in local schools, I noticed the need. There was a need for Black males and a need for Black teachers in general. I thought that I was pretty good at managing the classroom, it was interactive, and it was fun. So, when the opportunity to join Teach for America came along, I jumped at it. I began teaching in the neighborhood where I grew up, at Mathew Gilbert Middle School.
Being able to teach in my own community was such an amazing experience. After teaching at Gilbert middle school for three years I decided to transition to Nashville, Tennessee. There I taught third-grade reading until I transitioned to a large charter network, where I served as a leader for a couple of years. Most recently, I was a founding assistant principal helping a large charter network open up a school in Nashville. I got direct technical experience there. After that, I was blessed with the opportunity to found Becoming Collegiate Academy.
I was a part of the Freedom Fellows Institute, which took six black leaders from across the country and opened up high-impact schools in our respective communities. Being able to be trained alongside other leaders who look like me and who understood what we were trying to do was an amazing experience. We had a mission, and we were all set out to fulfill it. Now I am leading and founding Becoming Collegiate Academy. We opened our doors in August of this year.
“I think I always knew I would open a school one day, but I never imagined I would be doing it so early. I am 31 years old, founding a school, and leading this organization.”
I think I always knew I would open a school one day, but I never imagined I would be doing it so early. I am 31 years old, founding a school, and leading this organization. I am a Black kid from the Eastside of Jacksonville; I graduated from Andrew Jackson High School. I see where I grew up as positive, whereas most associate it with a negative perspective. It is a place where you grow up quickly, and although there are situations in the community that you want to come out of, there is also a lot of love. People normally associate the Eastside with high poverty rates and low-income communities, not with success or our legacies. So, never in a million years would I have ever dreamed and imagined being able to do what I am doing today. The Eastside instilled in me a lot of love, strength, resilience, and community. It was in the Eastside that I received the most love, the best Christmas’s, the best memories, and the most experience. Since then, something has changed, and I want to rebuild and extend that legacy forward for our kids.
We have faced some challenges with founding the school. I started this process while COVID was becoming a more widespread issue. Our school is being founded on the strength and resilience of the community, so to suddenly have to shift how we interacted with them was definitely a challenge. However, we have assembled a strong team, raised funds, and even submitted our 500-page charter to the Duval County School Board to be approved. We will be located in the Norwood Lake Forest communities on the North Side of Jacksonville. We chose that location because we noticed a lack of high-quality schools in that area, and we hope to provide for that need.
“We chose that location because we noticed a lack of high-quality schools in that area, and we hope to provide for that need.”
Currently, only 37% of Black kids are performing well enough to pass the FSA reading exam. Compare that to 66% of their white peers and 74% of their Asian peers in Jacksonville. An achievement gap really exists in our city, and we have to do something different. In order to reach our kids, we have to be innovative, get creative, and be unique. That is what we have been able to do at Becoming Collegiate Academy. Our goals for our Becoming Bears (mascot) are as follows:
We believe by achieving these goals our students will live a life of choice. We want them to be able to make decisions and live a life that is different than what they might be living at the current moment. It is our goal to be able to provide our kids with an opportunity where they’re affirmed, see themselves in a positive light, and know that the sky is the limit. Only 2% of the teaching force is comprised of Black males, and their roles are normally limited to coaches and deans. We plan to help change that. Our goal for our kids is to come to school and from an early age be able to associate Black with excellence.
We want to give them, a very solid foundation early on to be able to do that. As a Black boy who grew up in public school, I realized that my educational experience did not prepare me for college or my future. So that is why this is so personal for me. We have experienced firsthand what is available and we know that it is up to us to provide our kids with a positive educational experience. Being Black and being able to teach Black kids has a profound impact on their outlook on the world and of themselves. That is why we are trying to mirror the uniqueness of HBCU’s in our school.
“For us, it is providing not only a black-led school but a high-quality school for our community. “
For people out there who are trying to found their schools, I advise you to know and understand your “why”. Knowing why you are doing this is so important and when times get tough you will have to lean on your “why”. Your school is your vision, it is not just something you wake up and do overnight. You have to have your goals set. For us, it is providing not only a black-led school but a high-quality school for our community. I am staying focused on that vision and now it is just about executing the plan to make that vision a reality.