Michael Woodward Helps Black Boys Find the Right Role Model in His New Book
When you think of education and the African American community, you ponder how important it is to mesh the two together. Being from the low-income areas of Miami, FL, and Atlanta, GA, Michael Woodward knows the importance of being a Black man that pushes the limits of education. From the influential sternness of his father to the aggressive and fierce motivation from his mother, Woodard became a successful educator. With his new novel King Monte: Are You My P.E. Teacher, Woodard explores the beautiful image of a young Black boy illustrated on a front cover. The content of the novel is inspiring and well written for all to relate to.
Being from the Miami and the Atlanta area, I know you’ve seen a lot when it comes to poverty and injustice. What in particular about your upbringing inspired you to create this book?
I grew up in Miami until the eighth grade. After that, I moved to Atlanta to follow my father. He was big on being a part of my life and wanted to make sure I was following in the right direction. My mom did an amazing job raising me to become a man, but it was my father who always reminded me of how thankful I was to have him in my life. When I would come and talk to my father about other kids in school and how they behaved, he would ask me questions such as “do they have a father in their home?” Most kids I knew were being raised by single parents, so growing up in low-income communities in Atlanta and Miami I saw it and it connected me. When I got to college it all became full circle for me and helped me to see that It’s an epidemic. It’s an understanding that 43% of America comes from fatherless homes. It was nothing for me to charge myself with saying that something had to be done. This is how the book came to life.
As a Teach for America teacher, what was the greatest lesson you learned about yourself while in that role?
Leave your pride at the door! I will admit, I came in a little cocky because of the internship experience and I’d been teaching for a few summers leading up to Teach for America. I fell quickly from that high horse (laughs). I spent a lot of time questioning myself and questioning God wondering if I was on the right track in life. It took a lot of tears, reflection and praying. It was when I learned to swallow my pride and stop challenging people of authority who were better than me, that I realized my fallings and my shortcomings. I realized things I could be better at. Once I invested in that opportunity to become a better man and educator, that’s when I started to excel and win.
What’s your favorite thing about your book and why?
My favorite thing about my book is holding it. For me, it’s looking at the book and its illustration that awes me. I got this beautiful, phenomenal illustrator that helped me come up with this concept and I love it. The content is amazing for sure, but the identity of a young African American male on the cover of a book is something I didn’t see when I was coming up. I knew that I had to find a way to let these young black boys see themselves on a book cover. Back when I was a third-grade teacher in Las Vegas, we focused on reading. Unfortunately, when I first started teaching, I didn’t have the funds for a library in my classroom, so we always grabbed our stuff and went to the library. What broke my heart is that the black boys in my class sat in the corner and acted like they didn’t want to be there. It took a lot of relationship-building to get to the meat of why. These particular kids didn’t want to read the typical fiction books about Junie B. Jones and Huckleberry Fin. They didn’t understand that family dynamic. So, it was my duty to create something they could relate to.
If you could speak back to your younger self, what would you tell that young Black boy?
I would tell him to keep trying and to keep his head up. Not everyone is going to believe in what you stand for. Sometimes, you’ve got to just show people. I’d tell that young man to not hold back and to be fierce. My mom always told me “young man you’ve got to be assertive.” You’ve got to ask for what you want, tell people what you want, and stand for what you want. That hit me so hard because it’s such a simple lesson that I’ve always kept in the back of my mind.
As Black man, what did it mean for you to get your education? Why do you feel education is so important when some people feel like it’s a waste of time?
Its such a back and forth. When I think about my family and people I’ve interacted with, there are a lot of them who don’t have a college education, and they make more than me (laughs). It always humbles me to look back and think about my faith in my education and myself. I understand that education is what separates and defines me. I had to take care of business and gain credibility. What I’ve been through in life is a testament to my hard work. When I talk about college, it’s about the experience. It’s about falling and getting up. It’s about going through things and getting better at them. My dad made me go to classes with him and sit in with professors when I was younger. He planted that seed. So, when I think about the importance of education, I think about the discipline and knowing that it’s others first and then you. It means the world to me.
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