Brothers Liberating Our Communities

Hosted By Lauren Conaway

InnovateHER KC

See All Episodes With Lauren Conaway

Cornell Ellis

Today's Guest: Cornell Ellis

Executive Director - BLOC

Kansas City, MO

Ep. #1232 - Brothers Liberating Our Communities

In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, Lauren Conaway and Cornell Ellis, Executive Director of BLOC, talk about the mission of BLOC, short for Brothers Liberating Our Communities. Cornell discusses with Lauren the history and goal of BLOC and the issues and barriers in the educational system. Further, they discuss enticing, supporting, and developing young black men individuals to be educators.

Covered In This Episode

Approximately 7% of all teachers in the US are African American, with roughly 75% being women. Schools have no problem recruiting teachers of diverse backgrounds but find it challenging to keep them because of a nonsupportive culture. BLOC aims to transform the education landscape by keeping black male teachers in the schoolroom.

Listen to Lauren and Cornell discuss diversity in education, representation in leadership roles, systemic barriers, and the pandemic effects. They agree on the importance of understanding your history and roots, which led to the development of BLOC.

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BLOC aims to entice black male educators to transform the educational landscape. It encourages students to become teachers and supports them in their careers. Cornell discusses race and identity problems in the education system that affect students and teachers alike.

How important is diversity in education? Join the conversation in this Startup Hustle episode to get some insights.

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  • Cornell’s story (1:38)
  • Understanding your history and roots (5:40)
  • The history of BLOC (8:27)
  • Diversity in education (12:45)
  • Diversity in education and representation in leadership roles (15:25)
  • BLOC’s goal (17:25)
  • Enticing black men to join the education field (19:30)
  • Supporting black male educators (24:29)
  • Encouraging students to become educators (26:58)
  • The reformation of the educational landscape (32:08)
  • The effect of the pandemic and systemic barriers (36:38)
  • Race and identity problems in the education system (42:07)
  • Cornell’s favorite song and artist (46:49)

Key Quotes

Students, for them to understand how we got here. For them to understand that you’re not an anomaly, you’re not just a speck in space. You are part of a plan. You’re part of a larger opportunity for you and your family to be able to grow and get better and be able to see the next generation and build our future together. And to get students to really understand that, they kind of have to look backward first.

– Cornell Ellis

Company culture is a mirror of the person in charge. Founders, you are going to be the heart and soul of your company Culturally competent education, it stands to reason that it’s important to like it is absolutely crucial for these kids to see educators who look like them. Not only that, those who understand their experience can help them through that experience and can help engage them in learning that speaks to their experience, right? Like that’s really important.

– Lauren Conaway

We don’t close the representation gap, hoping that more black men decide to be educators. We have to be very intentional about that effort.

– Cornell Ellis

We had to reinvent what it meant to think about student success. And that’s the conversations that we’re having on the policy level, is to think about what it means to hold schools accountable. What does it mean to measure school effectiveness in a really honest and really effective and really thorough way? Right now, a lot of those systems, the inadequacy of the unpreparedness of the teachers was a reflection of the inadequacy and unpreparedness of the system.

– Cornell Ellis

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Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Lauren Conaway  0:01

And we’re back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host, Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHer KC. And I have to tell you, friends, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by Hiring software developers is difficult, but Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit or click the link in the show notes to learn more. Friends, we have with us today, I think, y’all know by now, if you listened to my episodes that I like talking to people that I like, I invite them onto the show. I invite them on to be my guest. And today, we have a guy. I don’t know him very well. I’m not gonna lie. But I’ve seen him out in the Kansas City community. And I’ve seen him doing only good and connecting with incredible people that I deeply admire. So, when I saw him out and about, I was like, hey, Cornell Ellis, do you want to be on Startup Hustle because I want to I want to learn a little bit more about you, Cornell. And I want to do it with an audience, apparently. Executive Director of BLOC: Brothers Liberating Our Communities, and we’re going to talk about a bunch of really cool stuff. But, hey, Cornell, thank you for coming on the show.


Cornell Ellis  1:13

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you. I always love the opportunity to be able to chat with folks and get to know people, especially when there’s an audience so


Lauren Conaway  1:23

We’re gonna get, we’re just gonna, it’s like we’re having coffee in a coffee shop. And we’re having a conversation, but a bunch of people just happen to be listening. Yeah. Well, let’s go ahead and get right into it. So, Cornell, I got to ask you to tell us about your journey, my friend.


Cornell Ellis  1:38

Well, it’s been a long and winding one, I think is what they call it. I am a product of Kansas City, Missouri, public schools and private schools. So, I’m from the Kansas City area. My mother is also from Kansas City. My grandmother was born in Arkansas on my mother’s side, okay. Second, Thoreau, second, third generation here in Kansas City. From that side, my dad his family is from Mississippi. And then they migrated to St. Louis. My mother and my father met at Mizzou in 1975 always include those stories when I talk about my own because it’s so important for black people, especially to understand how we got over a term that I’ve been. Yeah, a lot recently, right? The great migration, 6 million black Americans leaving the South to seek out a new life to seek out new opportunities in a different world. And without that, we wouldn’t see my family here in Kansas City. We wouldn’t see my family being educators for the last generations. We wouldn’t see the person who you’re seeing, not, I guess, not seeing, listening to hear in front of you today. My mother was an educator, and she taught Mackenzie public schools for 30 years. And I think that was really kind of my impetus for getting into education. I always remember really specifically having instances where her former students would come up and talk to her about the impact that she made in their lives. right, we’re walking through the grocery store, and three or four times before we can even get to the checkout, we are missing a guy. Miss LSU was my favorite teacher. I can’t believe that you’re here. You changed my life. Thank you so much. And sometimes my mom will remember, sometimes she won’t. But it was always evident to me that she could feel the impact that she made on students, and it mattered to her, too. So, my sister is also an educator. My father was not an educator by trade. He was a nonprofit executive. So I guess I’ve kind of taken those two things. Yeah. Yeah.


Lauren Conaway  3:59

You’re like, you’re like the perfect marriage of a great marriage. Exactly. That’s, that’s pretty awesome. Well, and I one of the things that I think is really interesting, you know, when we when we look at our history, you refer to the great migration, and this was post slavery as as black Americans were making their way north. What’s interesting is so so your family roots are in Mississippi and Arkansas, which are pretty firmly entrenched in like Southland, but Missouri, where they landed, interestingly enough, for folks who don’t know a lot of people consider Missouri to be the South, but actually Missouri is bisected by the Mason Dixon Line, which is the line that kind of it was the slavery line, like below in the oh my gosh, the Civil War and also the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, when you had two sides fighting against each other, the Mason Dixon Line was where those two sides came together and so Missouri He is home to a lot of Battle Grounds. It was a pretty contentious state geography to be in. Because we were kind of right in the thick of things. And so historically speaking, you know, there’s a lot I love the fact that you brought in your, your family’s past and your history, because it’s so it’s so affecting how we live our lives today. Like I mean, the fact is, I don’t know, I just I find it fascinating. So talk to me talk to me a little bit about that, you know, clearly you’re very, very in tune with your roots. Why is that important to you?


Cornell Ellis  5:40

I think it allows you to be able to understand yourself in the context, right? Yeah. As a I’m an amateur story and round have letters behind my name. But I enjoy the art of studying not only how I got here, but how the rest of humanity got here, right? How do we? How do we get to a place where you turn on the news? And all you see is Hamas and Israel, right? How did you How do we get to this place where less than 10% of our students are reading effective level in the Kansas City area, right? And when you ask about some of that history, again, it leads you up to where you are. Now, if you if you don’t know the history, you kind of feel like you’ve been kind of dropped in a setting without any context, without any type of information of how you got there. Right? Yeah. And it can be very powerful for I’ve seen in the power for evidence too. Students, for them to understand how we got here. For them to understand that you’re not an anomaly. You’re not just a speck in space. You are part of a plan. You’re a part of a larger opportunity for you and your family to be able to grow and get better and be able to see the next generation and build our future together. And in order to get students really understand that they kind of have to look backwards first. And so for me, that that that moment of being able to be, especially in Kansas City, again, we talked about the history of the location, and I kind of alluded to the educational disparities, right? And, and we see that kind of throughout the country in different cities. But Kansas City was a really interesting, interesting case. And if a student doesn’t know, you know, this is why the Kansas City Public Schools looks the way it does, right? This is why my school district in the suburbs looks the way it does, then it’s a little bit easier for them to be able to accept their current state.


Lauren Conaway  7:49

Right? Well, and I feel like accepting your current state like that has to be the first step to changing your current state. You have to understand where we’ve been in order to understand where we’re going. And so and I love the fact that what you do with BLOC, Brothers Liberating Our Communities, you’re you’re just that through line, is there no, like, let us understand our culture, our community, let’s show up for each other and for ourselves. But let’s first understand that contextual piece that you’re talking about. Can you talk to us a little bit about BLOC and you know how that came to be?


Cornell Ellis  8:27

Yeah, absolutely. So BLOC, stands for Brothers Liberating Our Communities, we work to increase the representation of diverse educators in schools, especially black men. When we talk about the context and the history here, right? Here in town, there’s a an education support organization called the WEB DuBois Learning Center. And it was founded in 1973. It’s going on its 50th anniversary this year. It was founded by black men in their early 30s, who were engineers and local firms, right? And now these men are in their 80s, right, and they’re looking to, to keep the torch alive, right, and to keep keep the idea of learning center alive. And they tell this story, right, that in 1954, when we started to integrate the schools, we also started to integrate the corporations, right? And before 1954, if you were black, and you had a PhD, there’s very few jobs that you could have, right? You’d be a preacher, you’d be a teacher, you be a doctor or a lawyer. And once integration hit, and corporations actually started to hire people of color, black men often left the profession to be able to find higher paying roles or higher paying jobs in the corporate space. And so that’s kind of where we started to see this vacation, or the vacate of classrooms, from men and for men of color. And again, which has led us to this point, right? Only 2% of educators in America are black men right now? Over 80 Over 70%, between 75 and 80% of educators are white women. And so our our organization is working to flip those numbers and think about how can we make sure that students are being taught by teachers that look like them, that come from the areas they come from, speak the languages that they speak, and therefore can be more effective.


Lauren Conaway  10:23

Well, and so we’ve talked on the show about before about culturally competent care, and that is like often so within Innovate, the InnovateHer KC community, we often have folks come in and they’re asking for like doctors or therapists or things like that, who, who are Latina, or who are women or who are black. And I just want to really quickly kind of set the stage like, the reason that that is important, is one of many reasons that that is important is like, often we have unconscious biases. And often we, a lot of like, a lot of things in the medical field were designed for white men and so like, women tend to get left in the cracks when being treated by this industrial medical complex. So, so culturally competent education, it stands to reason that it’s important to like it is absolutely crucial for these kids to see educators who look like them. But not only that, who understand their experience, and can help them through that experience and can help engage them in learning that speaks to their experience, right? Like that’s really important. And so when all of these teachers are Wait, ladies, just like me, like I was very lucky, I never had the question. I always had educators who looked like me. They could serve as examples, and they understood who I was and where I came from, to to an extent. But that being said, you know, I didn’t have so I was actually very fortunate. Once again, I had I there was a meme going around. Tell me if you saw this Cornell, but there was a meme going around where it was like asking, How old were you when you had your first black educator? In your in your life? Did you see this? When it went around? It was a while back? And I remember thinking about it, because I was like, I actually my first. My first black educator was third grade, third grade, fifth grade. And then in middle school, Mr. Harris, like so I had a teacher, a black male teacher throughout my formative years, but not everybody was saying like It surprised me. Not everybody was saying the same when they were answering this question. They were like it did it took until college or I didn’t have one the entire time. I was in the educational system. So so that what you’re working for is you’re trying to I don’t know what you’re trying to


Cornell Ellis  12:38

want to make sure that.


Lauren Conaway  12:39

Thank you. Struggling to come up with the right words for it. I’m so sorry. But what are you trying to do, Cornell, you tell me


Cornell Ellis  12:47

We want to make sure that every student has access to at least one dynamic black male educator in their life, right? A lot of data that shows the impact of educators on same race students, right? One educator on a same race student increases their chances of graduating from high school by over 13% to is over 30%. I think, more or less researched, and even more potentially overstated, is the impact that we have on students that don’t look like us, right? Yeah, I tutor some students around Kansas City that are not black male students. And I’m the only black male educator that they’ve experienced in all of their time in the Kansas City education system, right? And so I think when we start asking ourselves I think white people often ask themselves, right, like, well, I’m like, I can’t be racist, like I have black friends, right? Or I have black people that I hang out with. I think the next step to that is like, well, like for what right and I think how what is your relationships with with people of color like in your life, like y’all go, y’all check out Instagram together? You guys go watch movies, you guys listen to TV to listen to new music, a TV shows? Are you asking like people to help you with your business plan? Are you asking black people to help you and get in this case, like helping great your papers or look over your math homework, right? Like, these are different types of again, like you said, biases, and prejudices or stereotypes that may exist that may be well intentioned, right? Like I have lots of black holes, we gotta we gotta footlocker one, so we can go look at shoes. But when I need help with my business plan, right, I’m gonna go talk to someone. So over here, right, right, this I’ll really be able to start to shift that narrative or like, what, what, what are what are what is the role? And what is the black male look like? When you think about a black man in your head? What’s the image that comes to your head? Right? Yeah. Similarly, it’s kind of like the Google test. Right? When you Google criminal, what image comes up? When you Google doctors, what image comes up?


Lauren Conaway  14:49

So by nature of what I do, and I, I’m gonna apply the woman’s lens to this because it’s my lens. Absolutely. That means that like often I I will have educators reach out to me and be like, hey, we want an entrepreneur to come speak to our class, and we would like it to be a woman. And I’m like, fantastic. And then inevitably, what happens is, it turns out that they want this woman to come and speak to a group of girls. And I’m like, hey, that’s cool, more than happy to send someone your way. But tell me again, why we’re not putting this woman in front of boys as well?


Cornell Ellis  15:23



Lauren Conaway  15:25

Like, in my head, I’m like, I don’t understand why we’re not trying to normalize women in roles of leadership. And like, I’m a, the boys need to understand just as much that women can be leaders, women can be competent business professionals, you know. And I mean, it stands to reason that the exact same thing happens for black men in education, like you’re just not, that’s not the archetype that you think of, and people aren’t used to it, and that it will not stand anymore. Like we have to get, we have to close these gaps. And we have to bridge these discrepancies. So that everyone has equal access to that opportunity. And but not only that, everyone has had this normalized for them that it becomes a part of our society. So so much so that it’s no longer notable, because it’s still notable, right, right. Let’s make it not notable.


Cornell Ellis  16:16

Even even further, I think around BLOC kind of impetus for founding, or we see a lot of, like, you were saying, We have obviously a lot of applications out there right now for open positions at schools for deans, or culture coaches are behavior specialists, right? And a lot of these roles are employed by black men because they create great relationships with students, or what have such a great rapport with so and so who we don’t really, we can’t really handle very well, or where we don’t, we don’t see black men getting these opportunities to teach AP Chemistry, AP Math, they in the high academic areas of our institutions, as well as these high culture areas of institutions. So I think that pigeonholing piece that you’re mentioning here, right, like, as a, as a person who does who does fit into a small box of identity, right, that, that folks like to keep in that box, right? Like, yes, we’re here for black students. We’re also here for all of your students to be able to write what it means to have diverse representation in front of them. Yeah, absolutely.


Lauren Conaway  17:24

Yeah, absolutely. Right. Well, I gotta tell you, I want to dive a little bit more deeply into the work that you do. And we’re going to do that next. But really quickly, friends, I just want to remind you that finding expert software developers, it doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit, where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers testers and leaders are ready to join your team. Visit to learn more. All right, friends, we are here with Cornell Ellis, the executive director of BLOC, Brothers Liberating Our Communities. And Cornell, we had just started to touch on a really like, this is an important conversation. But I want to talk tactically, for just a moment. Talk to us about what BLOC does, you know, we know that your goal, your mission is to involve entice, you know, bring more black men into the field of education. And then I love what you added right before the jump where you were like, Hey, let’s also get them into those like, administrative roles, those high academic roles, you know, not just kinda like, Oh, here’s your pat on the head, here’s your you know, I don’t know, group engagement coordinator position or what have you. But like in roles of leadership, because there is a distinction there. You know, when I look when I look through my women’s lens, when I’m looking at like C suites, and I get really excited when I see women in roles that are donate dedicated to like marketing and HR, sure, but I want to see him in the CEO spot. I want to see him CEOs CFOs, like the people that are making these really crucial decisions. So I totally get where you’re coming from. But yeah, let’s elevate these men who have been historically excluded and degraded. And, you know, let’s elevate them to the point where they aren’t just part of the field. They’re actually leading the field, right?


Cornell Ellis  19:15

Right. That’s the most important part of it. Yeah, absolutely.


Lauren Conaway  19:18

Yeah. So So I love that you said that. But I want to hear a little bit more about how BLOC does the work. So how are you enticing black men to join the education field?


Cornell Ellis  19:30

Absolutely. So a lot of our work really centers in the retention in the sustainment space. So I think what really makes us unique, a lot of organizations may talk about recruiting more black educators. A lot of organizations may talk about training more black educators. But I think our organization really focuses on helping educators see their career as something they could do for a full lifetime. So we’d like to think about theory of change is kind of like a clay jar. So bear with me here, if you think about a clay cup or a jar that holds or bears water or some kind of wonderful liquid Kool Aid of your preference, right. And in that jar, there’s holes and cracks right along the sides on the bottom as a whole come out of the bottom. And that just means that everything that you pour into the jar just falls right out of the sign. And the jar is the education system, education system is broken, it’s cracked, it’s got holes in the sides, anything that you pour into, it is falling right out of the side of it. Most educators are leaving the field within three to five years, black educators are leaving the field within one to three years. Black men are not just leaving their schools within one to three years. They’re leaving education in general, they’re quitting the field and moving on to do something different, right? How can we come


Lauren Conaway  20:53

Really quickly? So why do you think that is like I imagined I know that education is becoming more difficult as a field as time like the pandemic you know, virtual schooling and titled parents like it’s becoming a very tricky field to to engage in for for anyone, but why specifically talk to us about the specific barriers that black men are experiencing, that are frustrating to them to the point where they’re not just like, walking away from a role. They’re like, I’m done, I washed my hands of education. I’m finished. Can you talk just a little bit about that?


Cornell Ellis  21:24

Yeah, I think that our organization seeks to alleviate a lot of those pressures that they experience and a really unique way. So our three pillars are really connect, develop and engage. So everything that we do kind of goes back to these three pillars, right? Connection kind of breaks down that first problem, which we see is isolation, like black men only being 1.7% of the population, probably only one of me here in this building. One of me here in this district, one of me here on this side of town, how can we break down those isolation, those walls of isolation, get guys to get to know each other get connected, so that they can have a network that then help they can lean on help be able to build off of. The development piece come second, it’s really like we want to pour into these black male educators. Most of the professional development that’s created for for education is for the majority of educators, white women. I don’t need professional development on how to build relationships with Timmy and Timmy’s parents, and in professional development on how not to talk crazy to my white female principal, when she calls me an angry black man for the third time this week in an email, I don’t really know how to respond without losing my damn job, right? These types of professional developments that black male educators are uniquely positioned to need to be able to have conversations about. S lot of those hotbed issues that you talked about, how do I deal with parents around having conversations about, like, it’s illegal for me to talk about my family, where my family comes from because they were slaves, right? That’s, that’s pretty much where we are in history in our country, right?


Lauren Conaway  22:58

I mean, this is this is the conversation that we have around critical race theory, right? And I mean, there are people who are like, knock down, drag out, just they refuse to talk about it, they refuse to entertain it, is it a topic of history, and the fact is, like, speaking to your point, so I think that like from from things that I’ve read, and things that I’ve heard, they want to protect the white children’s feelings, we don’t want to make these white kids feel bad because their ancestors did really shitty things to human beings who didn’t deserve it. We don’t want those white kids to feel bad. But then you have to, you have to remember, well, what about the little black kids out there who are having their history completely erased?


Cornell Ellis  23:38

We’re trying to figure out to figure out how they got dumped into this place.


Lauren Conaway  23:46

So we are once again placing, you know, whiteness on a pedestal, and we are erasing a very ugly, ugly part of our history. I mean, believe me, I take no pride in it. But that being said, I also know that it’s really important to recognize it.


Cornell Ellis  24:03

Take pride in raising it and not


Lauren Conaway  24:05

Let’s not do it again. Right, you know, exactly. So at any rate, like I hear that, so like that, I apologize. I had to bust in because like, that just resonated with me really hard. So sorry about but but offering development for black men that speaks to their own experience, including like those microaggressions that they might get from the people around them. Yeah. So,


Cornell Ellis  24:29

I get calls every day, I get calls every day from guys and then at work, right? You wouldn’t believe this email that I’ve just got, you wouldn’t believe what I had to go through today. How to how to just talk guys off the ledge right and then create some professional development to be able to help codify the skills that we’re creating to help them navigate the waters. And then engagement. So the third pillar is just kind of getting guys outside of the four walls of their school. Right. So when you think about community centers, mentoring, tutoring opportunities that we help supplement some payments for for and community, black male mentors and tutors pockets. And really create opportunities for guys to think about education is not just something that happens inside their own school. Right? Yeah. So when we create the connect developing gaze, and really, really work through those three pillars, we start to create, like all encompassing experience for black male educators, that then helps them feel like, you know, this is something that not only I love doing, right, that wasn’t a problem, they’ve always loved doing it. It just wasn’t really worth it. Right? Yeah, we don’t make for sure it was not worth the squeeze. When we add the connection to the network, we add this professional development that really makes them the best educator in their building, we add the engagement. So now they’re, they’re being thanked by community members for their work, and their service for being black male educators. Right? Now the juice starts to become a little bit more.


Lauren Conaway  25:52

Yeah, just a little sweeter. Well, so one of the things that I’m curious about, so you’re supporting, you’re supporting individuals who are within the field now. And I think that that’s amazing. But is the goal kind of to create that pipeline, like, if we have more black men represented within education than black children will see this and then will be inspired to join or are you actively? Yeah, right now I’m being pointed out, I’m getting a head nod. So I assume that that’s the case. But are you doing anything with younger folks who are thinking of maybe joining the education profession?


Cornell Ellis  26:30

You do a great job at creating that? That ecosystem theory of change, right, where the the most important thing that we can do for the next generation of educators, I’m gonna say this really slowly so your listeners can hear the most important thing that we can do for our, for the next generation of educators is to make their experience not shitty right now. Like if we


Lauren Conaway  26:54

can wait, do you want to say it again?


Cornell Ellis  26:58

If we want kids to even think about being teachers, we have to make sure that school doesn’t suck right now. Yeah. School sucks, right now, why would a kid ever want to come back to it as an educator? Right? It makes zero sense. And so yeah, you’re absolutely right. Step one, if we keep if we retain 100% of the educated, the black of white instead of black members in education for lifetime, that will significantly shift the experience that young people are having currently in schools to a more positive one, therefore, potentially encouraging them to become interested in education again, later. I think secondarily, to your point, though, this doesn’t happen that passively. We don’t we don’t close the representation gap hoping that more black men decide to be educators. We have to be very intentional about that effort. So yeah, we’re if you the one of our colleagues did a study. If you ask your your average white female teacher, when was the first time someone told them that they will make a great educator, it’s around third grade. If you ask a black male educator, when was the first time someone told him that they’d make a great educator? It was post bachelor’s, right? And so if we can quicken that trend up, we can shorten that trend, if we can shorten that leash, right? We have curriculum for as early as third graders using just a show and tell model. It’s really cute and really fun. We ask kids to pick their favorite thing. What is it you like to wash your dog like a tie your shoes do you like to clean like sweep the floor with your parents like to tell him whatever it is, break it down in steps, and then go ahead up to the front of the classroom and kind of show the class those steps of your favorite thing. And then they just take a quick survey that’s ask them how they felt about being in front of their teammates, sharing information, talking to their teammates about what they love because at the end of the day, that’s all education is. Education is trying to get other people to love what you love in the same way to see something that you see the way that you see it. So we’ve started to think about students, like I said, as early as third grade getting and you know, what’s really funny? The kids that always have the best show and tell are the kids that are always in trouble.


Lauren Conaway  29:20

Yeah. Because often the the kids who are well, so first of all, really quickly, we there is a component of this conversation that speaks to the policing of black bodies. The fact is, black children are penalized for their behavior more often than white children, even when the behavior is identical. Really, really quickly. I just want to I want to honor and acknowledge that like, kindergarten, but that being said, often the kids who act out are the kids who are bored. And so if you engage them and put them in front of people and turn them into turn them into an educator, you know you’re engaging them in a way that they probably haven’t had to had to do before they’ve never done this before. It’s new and it’s different. And I imagined that it would be really, really satisfying to to be a kid and realize like, Hey, I’m an expert in something, maybe they didn’t freeze it exactly that way in their mind. But that’s really cool.


Cornell Ellis  30:17

I’ll just have a have a tad bit, maybe even more of an ego and like, just for a kid to be up there. And notice, oh, this is pretty cool. Right? All eyes on me like, okay, yeah, that’s usually what they’re looking for anyway, right? That’s usually why they’re performing. Performing. I’ve had teachers like Lily be like, Oh my God, I’ve never had Johnny do anything except for this Oh, show and tell activity that you all do.


Lauren Conaway  30:45

Yeah. And if you can just get him like a little germ, like, just just pop it in there, like it grows, like you just you have to have, you have to have the moment like the the moment of inspiration, but then, like, keep growing it, you know, but if you can get that one little moment, and you can, you can foster it. And you can encourage it, like you’re changing kids lives through through like a one little tiny piece of a curriculum, you know, like, you probably don’t even know the impact that it’s having.


Cornell Ellis  30:45

I think they often also don’t understand the impact that it’s having for them to, for them to notice something about themselves whether or not they liked it or not. They don’t they leave off. And a lot of times education is not metacognitive for students like that. It doesn’t allow students the time to sit and think about what am I thinking? And what am I feeling, right? We’re just kind of getting over this hump to get kids to think about their social and emotional health. Right, right. So if we can kind of get kids in this way where they can start to identify, what am I good at? What are my talents? What are my strengths? What do I not like? What does my body physiologically not respond well to? And how can I pick a career or pick things in my life or pick identity as I start to form that to be able to center around the things that I’m good at and avoid the things that I’m not? Or not necessarily avoid things that I’m not grow? And the things I’m not?


Lauren Conaway  32:08

Right? Well, and I do think so we’re seeing this shift? And I, you’re the educator, this is just something I’ve kind of noticed as an outside third party, but I’m seeing a shift to experiential education as well? How do we involve kids in their own learning? How do we, how do we teach kids how to think rather than what to think because I think that historically, it’s all been kind of about indoctrination. Like if you don’t fall in line, if you don’t behave exactly this way, if you don’t do these very prescribed, take these very prescribed steps to your future, like, you’re an anomaly. And so I find that I find this shift to experiential education really, really interesting. And as you said, like that that psychosocial component that has historically been missing, it’s really gratifying to see it come up. Now I want to talk to you, I’m very curious about this. Want to talk to you a little bit, I want to get back to the educators. Because I understand that like, education is changing, the world is changing. The way that we think about the world is changing, and you have to be responsive to that. Are we forewarning these these educators and potential educators that you’re talking to, are we saying like, hey, just so you know, we’re gonna go through a really shit time. We’re going to be on like the forefront of changing the face of education, we’re going to, we’re going to diversify it. We’re going to do all of these amazing things. But it’s going to really suck for a little bit until we get to a certain point, you know, is that kind of part of the understanding, like I do this so that others can have an easier path?


Cornell Ellis  33:45

That’s interesting. I would hope that we’re done with the shitty part. It’s been pretty shitty for a little while now. Right? And as we think about the way that education has shifted, just in the last five years, right? When the pandemic started, educators everywhere, were praising the heavens thinking that finally, education can start to change in a way that was way overdue. The classroom looks exactly the way the same did 100 years ago, the school schedule is still exactly the same way. It wasn’t 100 years ago. It’s completely this weekend. The BLOC is up for a National Education Innovation Award called the Yazz Prize.


Lauren Conaway  34:33

I actually saw that this morning. Did you just announced that on LinkedIn?


Cornell Ellis  34:38

I did. Yeah. We


Lauren Conaway  34:40

I was so excited for you. And I was like, I’m gonna talk to him later today.


Cornell Ellis  34:43

We just found out that we were semi finalists, so over 2000 applications across the country. We’re in the top 32. And thinking about the way that we can change education for generations to come right now. And a lot of conversations in these spaces are around AI, right? And how AI is starting to transform education. I think that we started thinking about it when when the pandemic started. Unfortunately, as soon as we got the opportunity, we ran back to normal, right? I remember these conversations two years ago now, right? We were having literally this conversation about how innovative Zoom classrooms were, how many were the opportunities that we can have kids was zooming across the world, and education can change forever. And now we’re fighting to open up schools and get kids back in seats, because that’s what the federal government is demanding, right? Because we need to get MAP scores for the year. Yeah, right. That’s where we at. So I hope in my heart of hearts that we’ve been shaken to our core, significantly to the point now, and that some people have woken up to the point, they’re not going back, right, where we see that what we’re doing isn’t working. We may not know where we’re going yet. Right? We’ve, like I said, I mentioned a little bit of data before, I think it’s 49% of students in America are illiterate. 49% all students not even just black students. All right. And if that’s okay for you, if you’re listening to this, and that seems like yeah, one in two Americans should be able to read the Wall Street Journal. That sounds about right, then we’re not on the same page. Yeah.


Lauren Conaway  34:49

Well, and I just find it, I love that you brought that up. Because the fact is, we know, we know like the day everything that I’m talking about, and you all know this by now, like, I am terrible at retaining, like where I read things, and like statistics and stuff, but the fact is like, this is actually empirically proven by data time and time again, like we know that these things are absolutely true. We know that the pandemic put a huge wrench in the long term learning of a lot of students because we were so unprepared. We didn’t. And I’m not saying the educators were I’m saying that the infrastructure of America was so so unprepared. Well, yeah, well, I don’t want to knock educators because I really, really feel like y’all are just throwing everything you can at some really hairy problems. So I don’t want to play. I love teachers, like y’all do, I actually, so during the pandemic, alright, so I work as a mentor, or a volunteer as a mentor for a couple of organizations. And I just remember, like, I did it, I had done it before zooms. And then I did one on Zoom. And I was like, I don’t know how educators are doing this, like keeping the kids engaged and keeping the kids like, it was so hard. And I’m just like, I am so glad that we can pay people to do this every day. Let’s pay them all the money and make it rain. Like, I was like this thing that was seemingly relatively easy before now, like in the midst of this pandemic, and even post pandemic, it’s so much harder. And it was hard before. So I just write all the love in the world educators out there. But I will say that, like we were unprepared, we were caught unawares by this global thing. And we have kids who there’s a gap there. Now there is a learning gap. And there are opportunity gaps that come about as a result of learning gaps, right?


Cornell Ellis  38:35

And more pronounced over the pandemic also, right, like we Yeah, that’s starting to see a bounce back a little bit in the data. We just got 2022 data back. And we’re seeing a little bit of growth from from 21 to 22. But the drops from 20 to 21. Were really bad were drastic. Yeah.


Lauren Conaway  38:52

Yeah. And it’s like the last years of education, like we’re gonna look back. When we write in the history books, we’re gonna be like, hey, remember when like, we just didn’t know how to teach our kids.


Cornell Ellis  39:05

We had to reinvent what it meant to think about student success, right? And that’s the conversations that we’re having on the policy level, is to think about what what does it mean to hold schools accountable, that are not doing getting the job done? What does it mean to measure school effectiveness in a really honest and, and really effective and really, really thorough way? Right? What does it mean to really fund schools that are doing great work and recognized schools are really doing great work? Right now, a lot of those systems like you were saying before, the inadequacy of the unpreparedness of the teachers was a reflection of the inadequacy and unpreparedness of the system, right? Yes, thank


Lauren Conaway  39:47

you more eloquently than I ever did.


Cornell Ellis  39:48

And prep programs across the country were thrown a wrench right and I think the only thing that moves slower than the federal government are university. As the government is very slow to rethink about some of these policies and things that I’m talking about right around funding funding formulas and school accountabilities, right. They’re all things at the Statehouse have a conversation, but they’re big issues. Even more bigger than that. Are you trying to get universities to think about how are they recruiting and preparing the next generation of teachers, the EDD prep programs are even more white and female than the current educator populations. And so that’s also a part like when we think about what students we’re recruiting to, to the next generation of schools, I’m also going to college to talking to basketball teams, baseball teams, right? Because a lot of those young black men in schools are not in the Education Department, right. About to graduate and may not have an idea of of what they wanted to next. That’s how I ended up in education. Just,


Lauren Conaway  40:58

you’re just like, here, here I am. Do I have an idea for you?


Cornell Ellis  41:03

Well, what I just heard you yell at that guy across the across the whole campus, when you don’t you have a great teacher voice.


Lauren Conaway  41:11

You’re finding the opportunities everywhere you can find them. I dig that so much. So I want to, I want to ask you, I want to kind of turn it around a little bit. Now I’m going to ask for your advice. So what would you like to see? I mean, clearly, we know that you would love to see more black men get involved in the education field, like that’s been pretty well established. But what are some of the other pieces? What is it going to take for our educational system to heal itself to to proactively grow and get better and in do what it’s designed to do? Teach our kids, you know, to prepare them, prepare them for adulthood, prepare them for the world, what do you think it’s going to take


Cornell Ellis  41:53

To be informed citizens. I think I had this conversation the other day, and I asked, I asked the interviewer, do I have my own reality? Or do I have a magic wand? Right? Because I think,


Lauren Conaway  42:05

You have a magic wand for this conversation.


Cornell Ellis  42:07

Rght? Yeah. And that, that creates like this, this fantasy world of a boarding, a boarding prep school that has multi-generational family involvement, that represent that has a teacher population that exactly mirrors that student population. And there’s lots of different options and choices around the city for schools to be able for kids to be able to choose from, right? I think like that’s a system. And when you say when you say like a cyst, like do what the system was supposed to do. I think like That’s a that’s the toughest part to swallow, I think sometimes for for educators and for black educators. You know, when you look at some of the language, when you look at some of the legislation, when you look at the way that this country was built and unfolded, the system actually is working as supposed to, right. Like, capitalism, capitalism. Capitalism,


Lauren Conaway  43:15

Was designed to leave people behind specifically black and brown people, people who have been historically excluded to an extent women, although we’re closing gaps quicker than other populations, like yeah, yes, it was actually, that’s when we start talking about things like systemic barriers, and, like systemic oppressions that are very real within our society. But the fact that people are like, well, the the school system isn’t doing what it’s designed. No, it absolutely is. It was designed workers. benefit people within the the white people, people within the dominant dominant demographic group.


Cornell Ellis  43:54

Earlier, right, like when you when you look at our literacy data, and some people, some people listening to this will say, No, I don’t think that 49 No, I don’t think that half the kids in America shouldn’t be able to read. But they also think that, that there’s people should be laborers, and then people that should be working on factory lines, who that should be in the end of CEOs, right? There’s doctors and then there’s laborers, right? Yeah. In a capitalist society. There’s, there’s winners, and there’s losers. There’s always got to be a defined top right bottom class. And so what you have to think about what, right I hope, I wish with my magic wand that the system is able to be rebuilt and rewritten in a way as to again, change the narrative. Imagine if imagine a world where every police officer, every doctor, every judge had a black male educator, right? Yeah. And so now when the police officer pulls over, pulls me over on the highway, he doesn’t see the super predator from the news. He doesn’t see the narrative


Lauren Conaway  45:00

Yeah, Gary, like the person who’s gonna, you know, rob him or


Cornell Ellis  45:04

his beloved sixth grade English teacher, Mr. Ellis, right? We’ve become humanized.


Lauren Conaway  45:08

When you were a monolith, right?


Cornell Ellis  45:13

You mentioned earlier right? When the doctor wheels in a gunshot victim, right? And the gunshot victim looks like me. Is he gonna see another gang war? Or is he gonna see a human being laying on the table that is seeking support? Right when when the judge sees a defendant come across him for sentencing does he see that’s another black man that he needs to rid the streets of LA CC a father and a human being and a son and a brother, and someone that contributes to society in a positive way. Right. So the vision is that brothers that reading our community starts to shift the narrative of what black men are in this country. And I think we’ve created we’ve done a lot I was listening to. I’m on the Kansas City Mayor’s reparations Commission also. And I’m the Education subcommittee chair. And yesterday, I was on the health the health side, and they were having conversations about, again, you were mentioning earlier, reproductive rights with black women, the history of gynecology, right. And one things that we don’t understand or talk about a lot as much is the sterile forced sterilization of black men. And the misgendering and the just the horrific torture that black men endured as head of household to intentionally disrupt communities, right. Yeah. So at Yeah, block is working to, to flip that narrative to rethink shape redesign black males and their narrative in America.


Lauren Conaway  46:49

Yeah. Well, and I mean, you actually, I, I will admit to you like that. That piece of medical history is not actually something that I knew a whole lot about like I read. Have you ever read the I’ve talked about this book on the show before but The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Yes. Have you ever read this book? freaking love this book, it was written by a lady named Rebecca Skloot, and she does just an incredible job of talking about the unconscionable exploitation of this woman and her cells in, you know. Definitely check it out. But I mean, there’s so much more to the story. And we have actually gone wildly over time, Cornell. And I’m going to be late for my meeting. But I just I hope that you know, that like, every piece of this conversation I’ve been like, they’re like six things that I want to follow up on and drill down on because it’s been so interesting, but we do have to bring it in. And I’m gonna, I’m going to ask you the human question. Are you ready? Yes, it feels a little late. I feel like I’m gonna kind of lighten it up after what was a very necessary but also very, you know, tense conversation. So my question is, tell us, do you have a song that makes you sing along whenever you hear it?


Cornell Ellis  48:03

Absolutely. So I just told you I was in with the Yass Prize. The Yass Prize was in Cleveland. Shout out to Jeanine and Jeff if you all get to hear this. Thanks for bringing us together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I asked when I originally applied what’s your favorite rock and roll song? And Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist of all time. So I wrote down the song As by Stevie Wonder. It’s my mother’s favorite song. It’s my favorite.


Lauren Conaway  48:38

I always love Signed, Sealed, and Delivered. I think that’s my favorite from him. But ya know, incredible artist. Good choice. And I gotta tell you at Cornell, thank you so much for appearing on the show. I’m so excited that we had to have this conversation or got to have this conversation. Let’s Let’s keep it going. Do you want to grab coffee?


Cornell Ellis  49:01

Yeah, absolutely.


Lauren Conaway  49:03

All right, friends. Well, another, you know, having Cornell on the show, I knew it was gonna be good. Another really good thing. If you need to hire software engineers, testers, or leaders, Full Scale can help. They have the people on the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit, all you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers, and leaders. At Full Scale, they specialize in building long-term teams that work only for you. Learn more when you visit and friends, check us out on social media. We are always looking for ideas on guests to have topics to cover. We do this show for you. Well, I do it because it’s kind of fun for me, but we really do it for you. So let us know what you want to hear, what you want to, what you want to talk about. We invite your thoughts. Definitely check us out. You can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and all of the socials that I’m pretty sure we’re on. Yeah, we’ve got a chat group on Facebook. So check us out. Talk to us, tell us what you want to hear, but above all, keep on coming back and listening to Startup Hustle. We will catch you next time.