'If you like, you shoulda put a ring on it!'
By: Dr. Archie Wortham

“If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it,” Beyonce sings in her song ‘Single Ladies,’ and that’s what this is all about. If you like it…put a ring on it.

Good morning. I’m humbled to have an opportunity to speak on something I’m extremely passionate about. Thank you Dr. Leslie for inviting me. I’m going to do three things: tell you a little something about myself; talk a little bit about a class I taught, and talk about HOME and improving the education of males.

About me? I turned 60 last Friday. I’ve been married to the same woman for the last 27 years. I was perfect until then, and every day she reminds me of that. I’m a product of segregated schools, and in my family, I have two cousins who have PhDs. I was the last one, the other two, you guessed it, were women. That sorta set the stage. Growing up, I not only had black teachers, I had black male teachers. I still remember Mr. Dudley in Physics, Mr. Armstrong in Chemistry, and Mr. Cochrane in math. They were heroes, icons, someone to aspire to be. Is that important? To have someone to aspire to be like? I remember my female teachers too, and they ‘had a dream’ for me before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Susan Boyle. On my birthday I called Mrs. Edwards and thanked her for all she did. She’s 90 now, and as spry and alert as she was my senior year. You don’t forget those who changed your lives, made you who you are. That’s important. This brings me to the class I taught and why I taught it. It was important.

We have two boys. Our older son didn’t have the luxury I had in school. Today 70% of the teachers in today’s public school system are white women. He did not have the luxury of ever having a black male teacher: as only 14% of today’s teachers being male, a 40 year low, he only had two male teachers until he got to college. At 14 he wrote two pages of my dissertation. A dissertation that focused on the importance of fathers in communicating the value of education to their sons. It was during this time that Dr. Guzman approached me to develop a male-only class. Due to today’s time constraints I can’t go really in depth but it was a mountaintop experience. Especially the second iteration as collectively we men talked to each other in an academic setting about the struggles of being a man in today’s society. A society that recently published an article in Atlantic Monthly entitled “The End of Men… We had a buddy system in my class where we kept tabs on each other. We confronted issues without having to prove our manhood. During this iteration our older son, 17 at the time, decided to leave home. As I struggled with how I had failed, these 18 young men helped me ‘see,’ my son’s choice was almost a ‘rite of passage,’ and they helped me through it. They became my heroes as much as they claimed undeservingly I was theirs. They were learning to be the men that women would be proud; society would applaud; and their families would embrace. Is that important? The research exists that support the idea that the single-gendered classrooms empower the students and enhances the learning environment. In that class, we were on to something.

Unfortunately, some people don’t care if it makes common sense. And one newspaper columnist single-handedly caused an uproar, increased her notoriety and the class as it was structured went on hiatus.

I accept some of the blame. I was bruised. My ego was dealt an atomic blow; I reacted the way a lot men react when confronted with obstacles, I found a different way to achieve the same goal. I was 58. I was too old to try to scale that hill again. Resiliency has always been one of my stronger points when I have women encouraging me. And there were a litany of them: Dr. Guzman, Dr. Debbie Hamilton; Dr. Harriett Romo; my wife and many others. I remember my wife chiming in one day, “You know if there was a bunch of women getting together for whatever reason, men would give a flip; but let a bunch of men get together and women have to know.” The point is, most of the women championed what we were doing. But “I had a dream…” and Dr. Hamilton wouldn’t leave me alone. So I had to find a HOME for men at our campus.

Now we have what we call HOME [Help Own Male Education]. It’s our mission for men to own our destiny. We have to put a face on it, and we can no longer allow our moms, wives, sisters or aunts to do it for us.

We have to put a ring on it. We have to commit to changing. If we want male teachers, we have to actively recruit them. If we want better achievement rates, we have to first see what they are, and then set the bar high. HOME is a student organization where we mentor men founded on the idea of commitment, courage and candor.

We’re committed to making sure we challenge each other to rise to a new level. We understand we have to be courageous about this. Statistics show that there are more women working now than men. Statistics show that 40% of the households don’t have a male role model. HOME is there to fill in that gap—men looking out for men. Those young men who are in HOME who need extra help; either they have a faculty, staff or administrator as a mentor to assist, or schedule an appointment for them to get help. In HOME we help finalize a degree plans, use the buddy system to make sure ‘home-boys’ show up. We're candid with them. There is no BS. When you talk to an 18, 19 or 20 year old, you don’t have time to beat about the bush! We beat them out the bush. You got some girl pregnant? What are you going to do about it? You flunking a class? What you going to do about it? You stop coming to home meeting? Who can change that? You think about moving out? How you going to pay for it? We help them develop a five-year plan and put them with a mentor who best reflects what they want to be. We look to them as our Heroes who will be the salvation of this country: Heroes who will do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

Education has not been kind to men lately, I would say an injustice has been committed, and I’m committed to correcting that, believing the only way to correct an injustice is to get involved, be courageous with your belief, and be candid, speak out cause you believe in it. By the way our son will be getting his degree from NLC in December. He managed to put a ring on it.