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A Look Into The First African American History Class for Middle Schoolers and the Teacher Behind it


Some tasks we encounter in our lives seem more daunting than others. But, they can become the interceptors that change our lives.

This is true for Grizzlies Prep teacher Cartavius Black, whose journey to becoming an educator is noble and interesting. 

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Cartavius entered the work force like everyone else, searching for his path. During college, a friend mentioned to him that he’d be a perfect candidate for Teach For America.

She prompted Cartavius with a question that rang on an infinite loop in his mind.  

"WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DID BLACK MALE EDUCATORS HAVE ON ME?"

Black male educators make up 2% of Americas teachers.

Influenced by that staggering statistic, he decided to two years later to make the shift to education and applied for the program. 

“When I did apply, I made it very clear that I only wanted to be a part of this organization if they assigned me to the Memphis corps. I guess my argument was compelling, because I’ve been a proud Memphis TFA corps member since 2017.”

In 2021, Cartavius embarked on a new journey at the all-boys Grizzlies Prep Charter School where he embraced his new challenges at hand, joining the charge to equip the young men of Memphis with the skills to succeed.

Middle school is a transformative time in a young person’s life when many students often become overlooked. This can cause them to fall behind their peers and ultimately become disengaged.

Grizzlies Prep is structured to address young men’s needs, both educationally and socially, ensuring the transition into high school and whatever path that follows is not only fluid but fruitful. 

“Our youth deserve access to quality education. I will not rest until I can be sure that we’re preparing our youth to be competitive on a global scale. I’ve seen so much talent in the schools I’ve worked in, and the youth own the future. It is the responsibility of all adults to do their part in leaving Memphis better than we found it.”

In addition to teaching his general education 6th grade Ancient World History and Geography course, Cartavius would also teach the only class of its kind for 8th graders in the city; African American History.

The addition of this program was simply an opportunity for progress. With that in mind and the excitement he received from his students, he knew this was important.

“That nervous feeling quickly transformed to inspiration after interacting with my 8th-grade scholars. Their collective academic curiosity reminds me of a younger version of myself,” Cartavius said. “That curiosity also inspires me to bring out my best self for those young men daily.”

With help from Executive Director Tim Ware and Enrichment Coordinator Austin Young, they built a course that contains interactive resources and ensures students practice crucial skills like critical thinking, public speaking, fact-checking—and the ability to understand multiple perspectives—giving them advantages over their peers as they matriculate from middle school. 

8th graders at Grizzlies Prep learn U.S History from Colonization to Reconstruction. Cartavius works with the current U.S History class to build the  curriculum from the perspective of African Americans.

"I also focus heavily on students understanding that Black History is not limited to oppression and the rise from it."

The trailblazing teacher has an entire unit called “Excellence in the Motherland,” which focuses and celebrates Black achievements on a global scale.

Cartavius knows what he is teaching is crucial, and so do his students.

“I could tell that students were talking about my course in their spare time,” Cartavius said. “I’d often have random 8th graders approach me in the hallway seeking information on how to sign up for my class.”

His students ‘ love of learning is the considerable source of encouragement as he works to expose these young men to the achievements of Black people—reminding them they can be and do whatever they set their minds towards. 

“This constant exposure provides students with a complete view of historical events. I strongly believe that this promotes self-awareness throughout a young person’s life.” 

Through this course, Cartavius hopes his students understand that Black history is not limited to oppression; and that the rise from it rings true in Memphis.

Cartavius Black at Grizzlie's Prep Black History Month Knowledge Bowl

“I believe that awareness of history promotes awareness of the causes of modern problems,” Cartavius said. “Once enough people understand the causes of the problems, we can have more creative minds thinking about solutions.”

Cartavius continues to teach his course at Grizzlies Prep and introduce powerful, educated, and successful men into the world. 

If his ground breaking work as a teacher has not already amazed you, I’ll leave you with his words. 

"I will not rest until I can be sure that we’re preparing our youth to be competitive on a global scale. I’ve seen so much talent in the schools that I’ve worked in, and the youth own the future. It is the responsibility of all adults to do their part in leaving Memphis better than we found it."
Cartavius Black
Grizzlies Prep Educator

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