ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) — Most students throughout the state of Alabama will never see a male teacher of color in their lifetime. Black male teachers make up only 4% of the workforce. 

That is the inspiration for how the Men of Kennis program at Athens State University began.

Former Florence High School football player Keonte Noel is now a high school football coach.  

Growing up without the presence of a father, Noal says that he had a lot of male mentors in his life. However, it was the presence of the only Black male teacher he had throughout his school years that changed the direction of his life. 

“He was the only Black male that really resembled me that gave us a viewpoint of Black males being successful as a teacher,” Noel told News 19.

The Men of Kennis program believes that recruiting more young males like Keonte to be teachers can only help bridge the hiring gap. 

“Especially for the boys of color because it makes a profound difference, and the research indicates that,” said Darlene Turner-White, the program’s coordinator. “This program is not a very traditional program. It’s a program that provides additional support to men of color.”  

A recent survey shows having at least one Black teacher in elementary school cuts the high school dropout rates of very low-income Black boys to 39% and raises college aspirations among poor students of both sexes by 19%. 

“We listen to the research, but we listen to our young men on what they need, and we make sure that we provide a culture and climate so they can reach their fullest potential and they can be successful,” continued White. 

The program pays for two years of the student’s tuition with currently 20 students enrolled. 

“To put Black male teachers in front of younger students white or black is the biggest blessing in my life. It gives me the opportunity to continue my education debt-free,” Noel continued. “I get to boost my grades and really my G.P.A. as well to be able to get in front of those students and show them that regardless of who you are, a black male could really influence your life at a younger age.”