Jeff Davis, former NFL football player and father of six, is showing a team of 60 young African-American men that they have the power to change children's lives by becoming teachers.
How it Began — The Need for Role Models
Although Jeff Davis grew up without a father, he found a male role model in his high school coach. After high school, Jeff received an athletic scholarship to play football at Clemson University, and then he played professional football for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Even after his success, Jeff still felt like there was something missing from his life.
Then he heard about the "Call Me MISTER" — a program to recruit, train, certify, and place 200 African-American males as Elementary School teachers in South Carolina.
"One statistic really stuck out in my mind — there are more African-American males in prison than in college," Jeff says. "I wanted to be a part of the "Call Me MISTER" program because African-American males make up less than 1% of our elementary school teachers."
The Solution — African-American Teachers
"Call Me MISTER" is a reference to Sidney Poitier's famous line from the movie, In the Heat of the Night. MISTER in this case stands for Men Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models. Jeff says, "We help the young men understand that if you can become a man with character, you can become an even better teacher."
The program is a collaborative effort between Jeff Davis' alma mater, Clemson University, and three historically black colleges and universities: Benedict College, Claflin University and Morris College. "Call Me MISTER" participants earn four-year scholarships to college — an opportunity that allows many of the "Misters" to be the first members of their families to attend college. Currently there are 60 young men enrolled as freshman in the program.
Misters in Every Aspect of Their Lives
The "Misters" are paired with mentors who are already teachers, and help out in their mentor's classroom during their first year. This early interaction benefits both the young men training to be teachers and the children in the classroom.
Jeff says children have the opportunity to see an African-American male in another light: not as an athlete or a drug dealer, but as a teacher. And the young teacher feels adoration from the children that look up to him and call him Mister.
"The profession the 'Misters' seek as teachers is one of dignity and honor," says Jeff. "They will be valued for the rest of their lives by the many students whose lives they touch from year to year, day by day."
Reaching Out to Other Schools
Call Me MISTER used their entire $100,000 Use Your Life Award to award 25 students undergraduate teaching scholarships! Since their appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, education leaders from all over the country have called to find out how they can start a Call Me MISTER program. Clemson University will host a national conference to help other colleges and universities start their own programs.