As a Black kid growing up in the Alaska school system, Marcus Wilson did not see or hear his culture represented in lessons. He has vivid memories of repulsive jokes and remarks from at least one teacher.
“Going to school as a kid, there were times I didn’t feel good about myself,” Marcus shares. “The history and lessons about Black people in America were limited to slavery.”
Marcus and his classmates did not learn that Black people helped build and defend America. His memory of the untold stories about Black culture inspired him to become a teacher with the goal to educate students about the African American and Chicano cultures. “American students should learn about those significant contributions,” says Marcus.
Two teachers left a memorable impression: his second-grade teacher Ms. Bankston and a different teacher whose class he was in for several years. Ms. Bankston had a personal relationship with his parents, and she used that connection to nurture Marcus and his educational path. “I appreciated her love and care,” Marcus said.
The other teacher had an activity he called “Fun Friday.” Every Friday he read aloud snippets from a book with racial jokes about African Americans and Polish people.
Marcus vividly recalls “Fun Friday” and the feelings of anger toward the teacher. One of the family values instilled in Marcus was to always listen to and never question adults. He never questioned the teacher or complained to his parents. He did as he was told and endured the weekly derogatory jokes about other cultures. He knew those jokes negatively influenced the way his classmates saw him, and they contributed to unconscious biases against People of Color.
Marcus eventually grew up to become the principal of Wendler Middle School, where he promotes empathy, respect and cultural awareness.
Marcus received his undergraduate degree in human biology with plans to attend medical school. He deviated from that plan when he and his wife began working on their master’s degree in business administration. His passion for education kept him close to the classroom, working as a substitute teacher, tutor and family coordinator for schools. He eventually earned a post-bachelor’s degree in education and another master’s degree in education administration.
Marcus is driven by the opportunity to educate and advance the next generation of leaders. He draws on his classroom experience as a kid, his academic training and his career in education to promote a learning environment that promotes equity and a high standard for student success.
Marcus said he does not reflect on “Fun Friday” with disdain or hate. He uses those memories as motivation to promote respect for all cultures. “My unfortunate experience with racism in the classroom inspires me to be a role model and a positive example for teachers and students.”