Energy and impact. That was both the message U.S. Rep. Julia Letllow brought and the way she brought Thursday afternoon as she served as opening speaker, presenting a “national perspective,” during the first day of the national Call Me MiSTER conference hosted by Grambling State University (GSU) in the auditorium of the Betty Smith Nursing Building.
Once again using the theme DETERMINED, the event is the only conference of its kind to be held in the state of Louisiana following last year’s conference also hosted by GSU.
The Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) program was founded originally at Clemson University in 2000. The program strives to increase the pool of available teachers from a more diverse background, particularly among the lowest-performing elementary schools.
Because less than 2% of the teachers in the U.S. are African American males, Grambling State’s Black Male Teacher Initiative joined with Clemson’s program to help develop and recruit more Black men into the teaching profession.
Grambling State’s Call Me MiSTER program continues to grow and thrive, thanks in a major part to lawmakers like Letlow, who hails from Monroe, Louisiana, and last year helped GSU’s Call Me MiSTER program receive $2 million.
That funding has helped the 25 current participants in GSU’s Call Me Mister program receive scholarships, preferred housing, individual advising, mentors from practicing or retired professionals, recognition at school activities, professional development opportunities, and more.
After graduation, program participants are expected to have an impact by returning to critical need schools and communities to pursue their professional careers.
“It feels like yesterday, not three years ago, when I first came to campus to hear about your Call Me MiSTER program,” Letlow said as she began her energetic speech. “From the moment I heard about it I knew I was going to be a champion and a cheerleader for this program up in Congress and I will continue to be as long as I have breath because I knew from that minute I was told ‘Julia, if young men can see it, they can be it.’
“That resounded in me. I felt it in my bones. That you young men are going to be it for other young men who are coming up. And that is just such an incredible mission. And I knew it was one I would valiantly get behind.”
Letlow told the crowd that the Call Me MiSTER program is helping defeat a deficit of young male teachers that communities are experiencing on a nationwide basis.
“As you move forward, and you begin to teach and educate children, you know that if one person believes in a child, and that child feels like one person has their back — one person believes in them — that is a gamechanger,” Letlow said. “And they can go on to be successful because of that one difference-maker in their lives. You young men are going to be difference-makers. You are going to transform lives.”
Letlow also urged the MiSTERs to think outside of the box in order to impact the lives of the students they teach, telling the story of how one of her instructors when she was a college freshman did exactly that for her as he began the first day of class tossing candy out of a plastic prosthetic leg he was carrying while also holding a boombox playing the theme song from the movie “Rocky” (“Gonna Fly Now”) as he did so.
“I tell you that because there’s no moral to this story other than it was unforgettable,” Letlow said. “It was remarkable. He came in and he wanted to make an entrance, just like you young men did with me right outside that door when you introduced yourselves as MiSTERs. I’ll never forget that.
“So, what I’m encouraging you to do is to be remarkable. Find a way to be impressionable on these young kids. I’ll never forget that instructor I had because yes, that was weird. Yes, that was crazy and outside of the box. But it made an impact. We learned it and soaked it all in. That’s the kind of influence you will be for future generations.”