Gary Crump listened, with deep discouragement, to a judge give a sentence that put three young Black and Hispanic men in prison for life for crimes that could have been prevented with education. In that moment, he decided his time would be better spent working with young men in a classroom than as a legal advocate. He remembers thinking, “There’s got to be a way I can have an impact on young men of color.”
During his 15 years working with defense attorneys on trials and death penalty cases, he saw the criminal justice system up close. He knew that the three men who moved him to change careers were responsible for serious felonies. Crump also understood how poor schooling and the need to earn a living influenced their decisions.
“I think when you come from a background like that, you understand people engage in certain activities to feed their families,” he said. “Because they don’t have an education, because they don’t have viable employment opportunities, and no one’s reaching out to them, so they take an alternative means. Too often this is the case for many of our men and women of color in an urban setting.”
As Crump began looking into how to change careers, he was referred to UB. Its new Teacher Residency Program aligned with his goals. His law degree would be accepted as a master’s degree and he would take classes to earn a certificate of advanced study while he co-taught social studies. “With my history background and law background, becoming a social studies teacher was a good fit,” Crump said.
During his work last year as a resident at South Park High School, he collaborated with two mentor teachers who helped him build on his previous experience as a volunteer, working in the South Bronx to help students pass their high school equivalency exams.
“This is where a lot of my experience and my passion developed, in terms of my ability to work effectively with young people,” he noted, “particularly young people of color.”
Like Crump, fellow resident and Marine veteran Micah Harris, who co-taught social studies at Hutchinson Central Technical High School, was motivated to enroll in the GSE program because of what he observed as a substitute high school teacher.
“There’s not enough Black males in the schools,” Harris said. Too often society and popular culture portray Black men as criminals. “That’s not what I am.”
Students need to see Black men as teachers, he said. A father of three, Harris grew up in Buffalo. Lately, he has been coaching football at Maryvale High School. He was grateful for the residency’s training, certification and the strategies he learned from his mentor teacher Alicia Proctor-Szilagyi. “It gave me a route,” he said.
During the hybrid teaching of last year, Crump also was grateful for strategies he learned, including how to engage with students online. His mentor teachers, Paul McPartland, EdM ’06 and Laura Boland, were instrumental in connecting him with colleagues and coaching him to teach online.
“There is a disconnect between academia and K-12 teachers and what happens in the classroom,” he said. “They were able to really bridge that gap for me over the past year.”
With mentor support, Crump started “Motivation Mondays,” using video clips from Eric Thomas, a motivational speaker who was homeless for a time. The videos led to class conversations on themes, like overcoming fear. Crump built on those discussions, using two bulletin boards. One he used for motivational quotes from people like Thomas, Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt. The other was a hub for CLRI, or “culturally linguistically relevant initiatives.” He featured history connected to his own New York City roots like the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, the Jackie Robinson Museum in Manhattan and the new Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx.
McPartland and Boland told Crump that his contributions influenced their teaching as well: They plan to incorporate new, diverse perspectives to elicit more student conversation, as he did.
Students often told him that his class was a favorite because of its variety. His creativity helped Crump connect with students and achieve teaching goals.
Crump recalled helping a young man who had been struggling to finish a project to pass a social justice seminar. At graduation, he gave Crump a hug.
“If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here,” the young man said as his happy mother watched.
Crump wanted his student to recognize his genuine accomplishment.
“I had to say to him, ‘Look, you did the work,’” Crump remembered. “’You just needed a little direction and motivation to help you get across that line.’”
Crump’s experience that day highlighted the importance of his new journey as an educator.
“It made sense to me in that moment,” he said. “This is why we’re here. This is why you’ve been called to serve. This is why you’re part and parcel of this army of change agents here at the UB Teacher Residency Program.”
The above story is featured in: