Public Education Matters

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million students of all races, backgrounds, genders, and abilities, but unfortunately, that diversity is not reflected in our education workforce. Ohio University's Patton College of Education launched a program to help change that by recruiting Black males to become education majors and fostering their growth throughout their time on campus. Program coordinator Dr. Jason Rawls and Aspiring Educator member Mekhi Evans join us for this episode to talk about the difference the Brothers RISE program is making. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT WHY THE PROGRAM IS NEEDED| Brothers RISE (Rallying to Inspire and Shape Education) is an initiative designed to strengthen public education by recruiting students, particularly African American males, into Teacher Education. While African American students make up 16.8% of the student population in Ohio, less than 1% of their teachers are African American males. African American male teachers are needed to serve as culturally relevant teachers who are able to acknowledge and support the academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical awareness of all students, especially students of color. Click here for full information.

CONTACT | If you have any questions about Brothers RISE and/or wish to apply, please contact Dr. Jason Rawls at

Featured Education Matters guests: 
  • Jason Rawls, Ed. D. - Brothers RISE program coordinator, Ohio University
    • Known for his work with Black Star, a hip hop group comprised of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Dr. Rawls contributed production on “Brown Skin Lady” and “Yo, Yeah,” which placed him on the map among independent hip hop producers. As an Associate Professor of Instruction at The Patton College of Education at Ohio University, Dr. Rawls is now co-writing the first Hip-Hop Based Education program in a College of Education in the United States (H.O.P.E. Program). The program is a series of four courses rooted in Hip-Hop Based Education using both Culturally Relevant and Relational Pedagogy. 
  • Mekhi Evans - OEA Aspiring Educator member
    • Mekhi Evans is a second-year Education major at Ohio University. Originally from Hilliard, Ohio, Mekhi is a founding member of the Brothers RISE program.
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Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on March 6, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, and I'm part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and its 120,000 members who serve Ohio's 1.6 million public school students every day. Those students - of every race, background, gender, ethnicity and ability - deserve to see themselves in their curriculum and in the educators who are dedicated to their success. But unfortunately, that diversity is not reflected in Ohio's education workforce. While about 17% of our students are Black, only about 4% of Ohio's teachers are. That's why Ohio University's Patton College of Education launched its Brothers RISE program to bring more Black males into the education profession for our students. RISE is an acronym for Rallying to Inspire and Shape Education, and Brothers RISE recruits Black male students to become education majors and fosters their growth through their time at OU to make sure they can overcome any challenges they may face on campus to pursue their professional dreams and build a better future for all of us. We wanted to learn more about this program, and about the difference it's making for the OEA Aspiring Educator members who are part of it as students. So we sat down with Dr. Jason Rawls and Mekhi Evans. Dr. Rawls is an associate professor of instruction at OU and the Brothers RISE program coordinator. Mekhi Evans is an education major from Hilliard, Ohio, who was in his second year at OU and in the Brothers RISE program. Take a listen to what they have to say.

Dr. Jason Rawls, Mekhi Evans, thank you so, so much for sitting down with us to talk about the Brothers RISE program and why this work is so important. Dr. Rawls, let's start with you. For people who are unfamiliar with what you're doing, what can you tell them about Brothers RISE?

Jason Rawls 2:18
The Brothers RISE program is from the Patton College of Education at Ohio University. And the goal is to recruit, retain, and hopefully graduate, African American males into teacher education and to have them become teachers. Several years ago, there was a study in the state of Ohio, that less than 1% of teachers that are currently teaching are African American males. And so the dean at the time, Dean Rene Middleton, put together a committee to help work on how we would solve this problem. And this committee eventually met, for about three years, met and put together the Brothers RISE program. This program was designed with this particular group of the population in mind, specifically to help attract Black males to become teachers. And it's been pretty good so far, we are in our second year. And we are pretty excited about it.

Katie Olmsted 3:24
So why is it so important to have more Black males in our classrooms?

Jason Rawls 3:30
Excellent question. Studies also show that all students of any color, any race benefit from having diverse educators, specifically Black males, as role models in their classrooms as their teachers, as their educators. This has been proven to be beneficial. So we are excited to try to help push this agenda forward and help move this movement.

Katie Olmsted 4:01
Yeah, a lot of research about the benefits of having diverse educators in our classrooms. Do you have any insight, though, into the challenges of getting Black males into this profession? Having less than 1% of our teachers that represent that specific population really does speak to the fact that there has to be something that's making it difficult to get them in.

Jason Rawls 4:23
Yes, I would actually say that there's a couple of ideas that I have. And then I may let Mekhi chime in on this. I know personally, I never thought about being a teacher. As a Black male, no one ever said to me, 'Hey, have you ever thought about teaching?' I think that's one thing that we can do with some of our young men that are coming in through the school system, eighth grade, ninth grade, 10th grade, that kind of thing. Maybe mention it to them, 'Hey, have you thought about being a teacher?' and giving them that option. I think that's one thing that's not done a lot of times. There's this perception that being a teacher, you will make less money. And I think that's an issue where young males, Black males think, well, if I'm a teacher, I won't make enough money, or I won't make this certain amount of money or that kind of thing. So I think those are a couple of the obstacles that we need to try to get past.

Katie Olmsted 5:26
I like that you brought up the question of Have you thought about being a teacher? And I assume one of the problems there is that a lot of people haven't considered being a teacher, because they've never seen a Black man as their own teacher. Obviously, we know if you see it, you believe you can be it. But if you've never seen it, that's probably cutting off the pipeline there. Can you recall any black male educators you had growing up?

Mekhi Evans 5:52
This is Mekhi, and personally, I have never had a Black male teacher. And like Jason was saying, that's pretty much I think, the big issue when it comes to getting more Black males into teaching, I feel like just the fact that there's no Black male teachers out there, and it's just majority white women. I just feel like they just don't see themselves in that place in the world and society.

Katie Olmsted 6:15
So Mekhi, made you want to become a teacher?

Mekhi Evans 6:18
So it was around fourth, fifth grade, I had a teacher and he wasn't a Black male, but he really showed me that he cared about me. And he really pushed it forward that he cared about his students. He would - it was much more than just education. It was more of, it's more like a, it was more like a just a figure in my life that was there for me when I needed him to be there. And that's really what changed my life. And I I want to be that for somebody else down the road.

Katie Olmsted 6:45
It kind of sounds to me, what I know about Brothers RISE, that's exactly what the program is all about, as well. It's not just the academics, it's the support and having somebody believe in you. Is that about right?

Mekhi Evans 6:55
Yeah, that's about right. That's pretty much sums it up pretty much how I would.

Katie Olmsted 6:59
So how does this program work? I know it starts well before students even come to OU.

Jason Rawls 7:05
Yes, this is Jason. I'll explain it. Basically what we do: We're still in the early stages, we're still working, and working to increase the, the, the eyes on this program, but as we're working to do this, we have one of our recruiting methods is to treat our young Black males like they are star athletes. And so what we do is, any student that we have admitted to the Patton College of Education, any African American male, we will go visit them, go to their home, speak to their families, and tell them how we will help their young men graduate. And that is how we approach it. We've, so we've taken a different approach to recruiting, to recruiting African American males and making them feel like this is the right career for them. And Mekhi was actually one of the first students who we did recruit in that manner. So maybe he could speak on that.

Mekhi Evans 8:08
It was pretty eye opening experience for me, because I've never really been shown that much care, and like effort put into like getting to know me, reaching out to me. So when Dr. Rawls and Dr. Robinson, who's also a figure in this program, when they came to my house, it was really like, it was just, it was just a life moment, life changing moment for me, because they really showed me they cared about me, they wanted me to be there. And I was valued to being a teacher. And it really meant some, it showed me that being a teacher is much more than just going to college and having some random major. It showed me that being a Black male teachers really needed in this society, and they really cared about it. And they push that agenda. So I was on board with it.

Katie Olmsted 8:50
And they continue to push you through your time at Ohio University as well. This is a full service sort of program there, isn't it?

Mekhi Evans 9:00
Yeah, this is Mekhi, and absolutely. I mean, it's everything I could have asked for.

Katie Olmsted 9:04
Dr. Rawls, what can you tell me about the supports that are in place for the Brothers RISE scholars?

Jason Rawls 9:09
Definitely. We have several supports. First of all, the the entire college is on board, which really helps, and teacher education and Ed studies, educational studies. So they have support in terms of faculty, in terms of administrative support. And so we have different services from people like, for instance, in our next meeting, we're going to have people from the CARE they're called the CARE Administrators and they help students deal with difficult situations and difficult times. We're going to have them come and speak. We've had people from the bursars office, from financial aid. So we bring in sources to help them make it and navigate through college.

Katie Olmsted 9:59
What has that meant for you, Mekhi?

Mekhi Evans 10:01
Pretty much everything that Jason was saying is totally true. And it's totally 100% effective when it comes to our meetings and benefiting the brothers. When he brings on people from different colleges and branches of the college, and they explained to us how to really navigate and really find our way through this college where we are the minority here, it's really, it's really helpful as a, as a new student here. I mean, I'm a sophomore, but it's still kind of murky when it comes to navigating the college. I mean, it's a big college, lots of technical things I have to do. So really, when they come in and show me that, like, I'm not alone, and they actually bring in support systems from these like high up fields and the college like from the bursar, he gave an example, with the financial aid and whatnot, I mean, it's really just shows that we have these sources that we can use and reach out to when we need help.

Katie Olmsted 10:53
Sounds like it's really about making connections. And it sounds like there's a lot of the value about this is giving you diverse experiences throughout your educational career. I know part of that, you guys went on a trip last year, didn't you?

Mekhi Evans 11:08

Katie Olmsted 11:09
Tell me about it.

Mekhi Evans 11:10
So yeah, this is Mekhi, and last year, we went on a trip to Washington, DC. And honestly, that was the highlight of being in this program. And there's a lot of highlights, so that's saying something. But yeah, we went to Washington, DC, and we got a chance to go to, we had some fun activities. We had some professional activities ,we had, we also had some fun ones. For example, we went to a concert, which was Tyler the Creator. We went to a basketball game, and went to high school championship basketball game. But the professional things, we got a chance to walk on the monument. I mean, we saw the Martin Luther King. Got a chance to talk some of the people visiting there, and they got a chance to take pictures of us, learn about what the program is. I mean, it was just an awesome, awesome experience.

Katie Olmsted 11:50
Dr. Rawls, what would you say the value of that is, in terms of the overall big picture of this program?

Jason Rawls 11:56
I think it's twofold. The students, the brothers are on this trip, and so for many of them, it was their first time flying. They all got a suit. We worked it out to be able to get them all a suit, so they were dressed professionally. And that makes you feel a certain way. So there was one instance when they were by the MLK statue and people just didn't know who they were, they're dressed up, and they look a certain way. And people just wanted to take pictures with them. And it's that kind of feel. It's that, it's, it's letting them feel what it feels like to be a professional.

Mekhi Evans 12:36
I'd like to chime in on that too.

Jason Rawls 12:38
Yeah, go ahead, go ahead, Mekhi.

Mekhi Evans 12:41
Yeah, what Jason is saying, like the feel of it, I mean, like, when they got us those suits, it was such a nice gesture. And when they got us those suits, and there's just us putting those on, I mean, it was the first time a lot of us felt professional, like it was the first time a lot of us felt like we could be, we could be somebody in our life. And it was just like, we felt the - I mean, everything about it was just awesome. We felt so professional. I mean, I can't even explain how it felt to be in those suits with those guys.

Jason Rawls 13:09
And see - and this is Jason - but that right there is part of the feeling that we want to portray. Plus, the other thing we're trying to do is to teach them small things like networking, etiquette, business etiquette, and how to handle yourself in a conference. In a few weeks, we will be heading to Clemson University for the Men of Color Summit. And this will be our second trip with the Brothers. And we are excited again to have them have the same feeling, be able to network with professionals, other young college students and network with also university professionals and other people will be there as well. So this will be another exciting time for them and a very good learning experience.

Katie Olmsted 13:57
The learning experience, I think is probably invaluable through all of this. I also have -I wonder about, in terms of just reinforcing throughout their their college journeys, how important this program really is. Mekhi, if you're able to share, have you ever, have you had doubts about whether education is the major for you? And if so, has the Brothers RISE program put any of those doubts to bed for you?

Mekhi Evans 14:26
Yes, this is Mekhi and, you know, honestly, before Dr. Rawls and Dr. Robinson came to my house, I was having doubts. I mean, yes, I did have that teacher that changed my life. But I didn't know if that was what I needed to be. I didn't know that was my calling. And it wasn't until Jason, Dr. Rawls showed me that this is what I need to be, this is where I need to be, this is exactly where I need to be. And this is what's right for me and I can be this teacher I can be this figure of other people's lives, I can change lives myself, it wasn't until then where all the doubts kind of went away. And you know I've heard the rumors too, you know, teachers don't get paid, you know, kids are hard to deal with. And you know, I never really paid attention ever since Jason, Dr. Rawls has been in my life. And I feel so strongly about this program. I feel so strongly about my, my value in this field, that I don't really I don't have no doubts anymore, honestly.

Katie Olmsted 15:19
Dr. Rawls before the program started, was there a retention issue? Did you have people coming into the program, but not finishing, because there were not the supports there?

Jason Rawls 15:30
We have seen that. That, that's one of the main issues. And that's where we understood that we needed to do something different. It's, it's very different and for, and it's hard to explain, but if you're not an African American male, navigating on a PWI, a predominantly white institution, can be difficult. It is, it is a trying time for some of our young Black males. And so this support system gives them a space that they can use to actually help them navigate these, these rough waters. And especially if you come from an area where you're not used to having any assistance or any help - you know, this, like Mekhi mentioned earlier, this is a big university. And this isn't even one of the largest universities in Ohio. And it's still just a big place. And it can be very daunting. And I think that's part of what we help these young men, we help them tread those waters and get through to hopefully to the other side, to that graduation.

Katie Olmsted 16:42
It sounds to me like a large part of that is about meeting people where they are and valuing people for where they are and who they are.

Jason Rawls 16:50
Yes, that is the that is my pedagogical philosophy. So it definitely works out that I'm trying to do both with the program and with how I teach. So you are correct.

Katie Olmsted 17:04
So let's talk very briefly about how you teach you have spearheaded the HOPE program. What is that?

Jason Rawls 17:12
Yes, ma'am. The HOPE program is something that I'm trying to push. There's a whole movement in the realm of education, spearheaded by leaders such as Chris Emdin, Emery Petchauer, Marc Lamont Hill, Bettina Love, and Martha Diaz, and others. It's called Hip Hop based education. And so the idea is incorporating Hip Hop aesthetics into your pedagogy. So as a teacher, we don't really say no to some of the ways and things that the students do. The goal is to meet them where they are. And so my research and my scholarship is what I call youth culture pedagogy, where I don't just stop at hip hop, I talk about all of youth culture. So things like anime or skateboarding, I bring those things in and allow students to be who they are. For instance, if I'm doing test questions, and I know many of my students are big into basketball, I might have a question that I use NBA statistics or use NBA names and, and that helps make the questions on the test relevant for the students. And I approach them from a place of care. And something that I use called relational pedagogy, by Dr. Alexander Sidorkin. And so that is part of my philosophy. So the whole program is based on those general principles. HOPE stands for Hip-Hop Ohio Patton Education. It consists of four courses, and we are currently working to make it a certificated program here at the Patton College of Education Ohio University.

Katie Olmsted 18:56
Mekhi, have you had any of Dr. Rawls' courses yet?

Mekhi Evans 18:59
I'm currently in one right now, actually.

Katie Olmsted 19:01
What do you think?

Mekhi Evans 19:02
Um, yeah. So it's pretty much awesome. I've had multiple kids come up to me, like students, peers, like talk, we gotta talk after class. And everybody's just has nothing but good things to say about Dr. Rawls. Yeah. He always invites people to just be who they are. And nobody ever feels like they can't express their self or, I mean, it's just an open, it's an open place to be. It's an inviting place to be. And just the fact that he said, like, the NBA statistics, making it more relevant for students. That alone right there, I can't express how much of a difference that makes in like, the students' lives. When they read a question that was relevant to them and they can care about, it just makes all the difference to how they're learning, how you approach their learning.

Katie Olmsted 19:45
And that brings us right back to Brothers RISE, where it's clear that they care about you and they want to meet you where you are. I know it's only in the second year for this program. Where do you see this program going?

Mekhi Evans 19:58
Honestly, I don't know the sky's the limit for this program honestly. And I can just see the program flourishing, having multiple members. I mean, I just want, I just want this program, the best for. I would like to see a lot of different brothers gaining. And we just want to see when the years go on, some of the new new faces in here. And honestly, that's just a - the sky's the limit for this program. We can do it, we can make it anything we want. I just want to see its success pretty much.

Jason Rawls 20:23
And this is Jason. I see - what I really would like to see, to be quite honest with you, I want to see it grow, but I want to see the current members like Mekhi and James and Moore and Owen and Ben, etc. come back, and maybe help, maybe help out. If one decides, hey, I'm gonna go to grad school, maybe they'll go here and be able to give back as a GA, a grad assistant, and help the program because I want the people that have gone through the program to help grow it. That's my goal, Katie, to just have it grow, but have it grow with the people who have gone through the program as well.

Katie Olmsted 21:04
Well, I appreciate the opportunity to to speak to you about the program and to you, Mekhi, about going through this program. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Jason Rawls 21:13
Thank you very much.

Mekhi Evans 21:14
Thank you very much for having us.

Katie Olmsted 21:18
If you'd like to learn more about the Brothers RISE program and the work this group is doing to help diversify Ohio's education workforce, you can find Dr. Rawls' contact information in the show notes for this episode. And while you're there, make sure you subscribe to Education Matters wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss an episode in the future. Until next time, stay well

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