Teachers Like Me

A Land Trust and a Nonprofit Team Up To Bring More Black Teachers to Kansas City

By constructing duplexes on vacant land for the teachers, the groups aim to provide educators with a strong community while ensuring that teachers live and work in the district they serve.

Story by Cinnamon Janzer

Published on

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When Trinity Davis, a Black woman, graduated from Kansas’s Pittsburg State University in 1997, she and one fellow student who was Mexican were the only two people of color to matriculate from her teaching program. As she began her career, she found herself in similar situations at the front of the classroom.

“I taught in a predominantly white school and then a predominantly Black school. In both cases I was one of the only teachers of color,” Davis recalls. “I was like, we need to figure out how we can get more Black teachers.”

Davis eventually left Pittsburg to become the assistant superintendent of instruction, curriculum and professional development two hours north in Kansas City, Missouri. Across her career, she had always tried to do what she could to increase the presence of Black teachers, but red tape held her up. But she couldn’t let the idea go — it was simply too important.

Research has shown that Black students that have at least one Black teacher between kindergarten and third grade are 13% more likely to graduate from high school and 19% more likely to enroll in college than peers who did not. Yet public schools across the country are struggling to retain the Black teachers that make up just 7% of the current teaching population. At the peak of the pandemic, Black teachers were more than twice as likely as their non-Black counterparts to say they were leaving their job at the end of the 2020–2021 school year.

Trinity Davis of Teachers Like Me

Trinity Davis is the founder of Teachers Like Me. (Photo courtesy TLM)

So in June 2020, Davis launched Teachers Like Me, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing Black teachers in Kansas City largely through the provision of affordable housing but with additional support services as well.

So far Teachers Like Me has brought three cohorts, totaling more than 40 teachers, to Kansas City. It’s part of her goal of increasing the percentage of Black teachers living and working in the Kansas City Public School District by 3% over three years. (Already, they’ve increased the percentage by 1%.)

“I looked at everything that I felt I needed [when I was a teacher], the things that allowed me to stay in the field and the things I didn’t get that would have helped me to stay in the field,” Davis says. Affordable housing became a standout variable.

“We don’t have a lot of historical Black colleges around us, so I have to go to other places to recruit teachers. But if I bring them to Kansas I can’t say, well, you’re going to start off [making] $46,000 but your rent will be $1,200 a month, good luck,” she adds.

After funding much of the first year of Teachers Like Me’s operations herself, Davis met Scott Johnson and Doug Shafer of the Manheim Community Land Trust. Across the country, community land trusts (or CLTs) have become a growing solution to the affordable housing crisis, allowing individuals to lease homes on land owned by nonprofit stewards.

Johnson and Shafer had started MCLT with a mission similar to that of Teachers Like Me. The outcome of their collaboration was the acquisition of 16 vacant lots, leased to Teachers Like Me for $50 a month each.

“MCLT and Teachers Like Me are distinct organizations, but we have an agreement that includes [first] option [to build on] the land for Teachers Like Me,” Shafer says, noting that MCLT also receives accounting and administrative support from Teachers Like Me. “It’s mutually beneficial.”

A Black teacher in Kansas City, Missouri

A member of the Teachers Like Me cohort in action. (Photo courtesy TLM)

Because the pandemic got in the way of the first build, the organizations opted to buy a house and put it into the land trust in order to help house three members of the first cohort. One duplex currently under construction is slated to complete in February, while Teachers Like Me raises funding to construct another four duplexes next door. These homes are provided to the teachers at a discount rent for three years.

While construction is underway, Davis reached an agreement with a local Airbnb to house other cohort members. Whatever money can’t be raised through grants to cover the costs of the build, Teachers Like Me will finance through a local community bank.

But housing isn’t all that Teachers Like Me offers. In the same way that many districts offer wraparound services for students, Teachers Like Me offers financial coaching and therapy services for its teachers. This way teachers start learning how to plan and save for a home and other future financial goals at an early age while having an outlet to process the struggles they face as a Black teachers.

“I’m very cautious because racism still exists. It’s loud and strong and persistent. What I’m not going to do is just take two teachers and leave them there. I have to come in with 10,” she says. That support is crucial to retaining Black teachers in the city, and in the field.

Black teachers in Teachers Like Me cohort

The Teachers Like Me program provides a sense of community, in addition to housing and mentorship. (Photo courtesy TLM)

“You need an army behind you when you’re a Black educator, especially with all the policies and politics in the system going on right now. You need to be armed together to be able to advocate for and say certain things.”

It’s this community-first mentality that Davis hopes to ultimately spread across the country as Teachers Like Me grows. She hopes to get 100 teachers in Kansas City and expand into cities like nearby Raytown, Missouri, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Cinnamon Janzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, Rewire.news, and more. She holds an MA in Social Design, with a specialization in intervention design, from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

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