A Reflection by Malcolm Nelson, Principal of St. Therese Catholic Academy

February 23, 2023

What does it mean to you to be a Black educator? A Black administrator/principal? 

It means everything to me being a Black educator for a multitude of reasons. The first is that I accomplished my goals and to be able to look my students in the eye and tell them education was my goal. I am blessed to be living that dream, showing them that it is possible to chase your dreams, and reach them. Research continues to show how students who have educators that are representative of themselves have stronger outcomes of success mentally, spiritually, and socially in high school, college, and beyond. There are so many elements to education not found in the pages of a book, that can only be taught from experience. The beauty of experience is that the lessons the Black students learn, such as code switching, the White students learn that their friends have to “do this.” Thus, even they become more adept at seeing the world from a more communal and collective view point. 

What we have at St. Therese is not for Black kids only. What we have at St. Therese is a future filled with hope for all students. A future filled with Justice, Peace, and Grace given to us by God, shared to all those in community with us. 

Why do you think it is important that your students see you in this role? 

Black youth in today’s America do not see enough leadership opportunities at the top. According to a Fortune 500 list in 2022, there are a whopping 6 Black CEOs out of 500. If I stand correct, I believe I am the only Black Principal out of 72 schools. It means everything to see someone like you in charge, especially in the realm of education, and not music or sports. Again, not to be confused to say the people in charge of music and sports didn’t have to work their tail off to get there, which is why we celebrate those pioneers in Black History Month. However, my point is that Black leadership in America seems to always be the exception to rule. Exception to the rule, by design then, means “different” and that isn’t fair to all the young Black men and women out there who just want a fair shake at success. 

When my students see me, they see a young Black man who went to the same school they do, and who is seated at the position of his dreams. To see it, is to believe it. So shout out to those 6 Black Fortune 500 CEOs (Roz Brewer – Female, David Rawlinson – male, Robert Reffkin – male, Frank Clyburn – male, Marvin Ellison – male, Thasunda Brown Duckett – Female). 

What are your goals for your school? 

My goals for St. Therese are to continue to create servant leaders for a diverse world. I want this school to continue to be known for the amazing, Christ loving, justice driven community that it has always been. Students who graduate from St. Therese are not only faith driven, they are well rounded individuals who are ready to be themselves and change the world. 

What are you most excited about as principal? What do you think is most challenging? 

I am most excited to have a positive impact on the families who attend school here. One motto that we have always said in interviews is that we accept families, not students. As the principal, there are 189 students and 128 families who are counting on us to do a great job. I represent all of that, and that is really awesome to me. I get the most excited when students and families are happy to be here because they could choose anywhere else. 

Of course, the biggest challenge is finances. We live in an expensive city, and the prices only go one way. Our biggest hurdle is how do we continue to support those families through tuition assistance who want an access to a rigorous faith-based education, AND a community that is reflective of their values, while still having enough money in the bank to pay teachers who want the same thing! 

What has your experience with Fulcrum been? 

My experience with Fulcrum has been great through the years. Since the beginning of my employment at St. Therese, members of the Fulcrum community have been watching me chase my goals of being principal and they have supported me every step of the way. Through connections and assistance, one specific example is my Notre Dame Administration Degree. Additionally, Fulcrum has given me the opportunity to demonstrate my talents of charisma and gumption through professional opportunities such as emceeing the 2022 Celebration of Light at T-Mobile Park. As a school principal, they continue to support St. Therese by way of tuition assistance and grants that help us maintain a standard of excellence that otherwise might have passed us by without the intentionality of all those who support Fulcrum and Catholic schools. 

Why do you think Catholic education is important? 

I think Catholic education is important because of the values we instill from the very start. Research shows it is easier to learn a new language while the brain is in the phase of forming many neuron connections to begin with, and the throat/ jaw muscles are still malleable. Think of the language of Christ as a foreign language. In Catholic schools, we are taught the language of love by Jesus Christ at the same time as we learn how to read and write. This early installation allows us to do more than just provide the right answer at school, it helps us provide the right answer in the real world. 

What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important that schools teach Black history? 

These questions are very tough for me to answer because I personally feel like for any holidays in America, you are important to the mass public up until the next holiday. I feel America often treats Black History Month in that same light. “You get one aisle in the store.” 

One thing that I have loved about the St. Therese community is that Black history is not relegated to one month. Of course, I fully support all identification given those deserving during the month of February, but at St. Therese we celebrate our Black and Brown children every day. What I have always loved about St. Therese is that our White community members have always celebrated the Black and Brown children as well. We discuss the good, bad, progressive, and detrimental of the fight for equality every day in our classrooms, and root ourselves in the teachings of the greatest educator of them all: Jesus Christ. 

So yes, in January, we paid close attention to Coretta Scott King and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in February we will highlight those who have contributed to society for the greater good, and in March we will celebrate the Black and Brown women whose platform has not been given the proper acknowledgement. Take note though, of how in April, May, and June the St. Therese community still celebrates one another, in the way Christ does. Take note of us elevating the voices of all of our students who will one day be the change-makers. That day, there will just be the history of the United States, and those who made it better.

This reflection is part of Fulcrum’s celebration of Black History Month 2023.