Reon Gillespie is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, currently mapping out his future with lessons learned from the past.

“It took me until I got to middle school to find out that I could actually be something, that I am intelligent, that I could do things beyond my means,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie wondered out loud how that mindset could have impacted him at a much earlier age, and how that could have driven him towards education earlier.

It’s a goal shared by Ja’Waun Williams, who’s aiming to use education as a career path to reach lives and provide mentorship.

They’re among 17 students in the ‘Call Me Mister’ initiative that launched at UIC three years ago, providing social and financial support to help build a pipeline of Black and Latino men pursuing careers in elementary education.

“Growing up, I didn’t see very many, if any at all, Black male teachers or minority male teachers,” Williams said.

The program’s faculty liasonm Dr. Decoteau Irby, said that needs to change.

“We know that those formative early years are important for students to see a broad representation of people who like them in the teaching profession, and this is important because we know that identity matters and seeing people who look like you, even early in life, really begins to shape what you see as your life aspirations,” Irby said.

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