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What Did My Father Mean to His Black Male Students? Everything.

Every weekday morning for 30 years, my father donned his work uniform — a crisp blue or white shirt, dark slacks and a tie. He then drove to an elementary school on the northwest side of Detroit to instruct classrooms of 30 or more third- and fourth-grade students in the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

My father, Harold Shelton Jr., worked in the Detroit Public Schools, a system struggling in the wake of factory closings, declining population and increasing poverty rates when he arrived in 1973. He was one of a handful of male teachers at his school and often the only one of color, despite his employment in a district composed almost entirely of African American students.