The African-American Teaching Fellows hosted its seventh annual John E. Baker Legacy Dinner at Farmington Country Club on Friday, raising money for its scholarship program and honoring locals who have worked to promote equity and diversity.
The group recruits teaching candidates of color from throughout Virginia and awards annual scholarships of $5,000 for as many as three years, in return for an equivalent number of years of teaching in Charlottesville or Albemarle County public schools.
Since 2004, the organization has provided nearly $300,000 in tuition support to college students pursuing teaching licenses. More than 40 students have completed the fellowship program.
“These fellows are making a difference every day in the lives of students, teachers and parents,” said Eric Johnson, principal of Buford Middle School and chairman of the AATF board.
According to the African-American Teaching Fellows, only one of 10 teachers in Albemarle and Charlottesville is African-American.
Jamir Kai, a Spanish language teacher at Monticello High School, said he has benefitted from continued professional support and networking opportunities offered by AATF.
“Black students need black educators as role models and figures of reaffirmation,” Kai said. “Black educators can come to black students with a shared history and a shared culture, while being culturally responsive to all students.”
Martin N. Davidson, the Johnson & Higgins Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, gave the keynote address at Friday’s dinner.
Davidson, Darden’s senior associate dean and global chief diversity officer, said he had few black teachers when he was in grade school. “The ones I had really made a difference,” he said.
Davidson said he is concerned by a recent trend of public schools becoming more racially homogeneous due to residential segregation. “It is important to create learning environments where all children have a chance to succeed,” he said.
Maxine Holland received the John E. Baker Community Education Award. As a teacher at Albemarle High School, Holland founded a club for African-American male students, and led field trips to Alabama and Georgia to teach students about the civil rights movement.
“If you are not in an environment where you feel included, how are you supposed to learn?” Holland said. “If you’re always feeling anxiety and fear of being excluded, that’s going to be a problem.”
Since retiring in 2009, Holland has continued to promote African-American history and has organized community events to celebrate Kwanzaa and Juneteenth.
“When leaders and teachers have an understanding of history, culture and self-determination, a lot of problems can be solved,” she said.
Toan Nguyen received the John E. Baker Legacy Award for his leadership in closing opportunity gaps in the marketplace through his establishment of the Community Investment Collaborative. The CIC provides micro-loans and business training to minorities and formerly incarcerated individuals.
The sold-out fundraising dinner also paid tribute to the late John E. Baker, the first African-American elected to the Albemarle County School Board. He served as chairman during the 1998-99 school year. Baker-Butler Elementary School is named in his honor.
Teddy Mathews and Amaya Baker — both sixth-graders who previously attended Baker-Butler — received leadership awards for their service to classmates during the 2016-17 school year.
Toan Nguyen, Co-Founder of Community Investment Collaborative, and winner of the John E. Baker Legacy Award at the African American Teaching Fellows Legacy Dinner