Daniel Robertson and Jeremy Besch share similar philosophies on educating today’s youth despite coming from vastly different backgrounds.
“I grew up with an absent father,” said Robertson, Program Manager for Say Yes Buffalo’s Boys and Young Men of Color initiative. “I pretty much grew up around individuals that looked like me. I had friends who were in the streets and sold drugs and went to jail. I had friends who I grew up with who are no longer here now because of gun violence.”
Besch, the outgoing Head of School at The Park School of Buffalo, said his experience with people of color took a backwards trajectory when he was a child.
“I grew up in the University Heights neighborhood, went to St. Joe’s University Heights School,” he said. “So I had friends of all sorts of different colors and backgrounds. When I was a Junior in high school, my parents moved into Tonawanda, and my exposure and relationships with people of color just shrunk.”
Robertson and Besch shared their thoughts on their upbringing, the challenges they have faced, and what white privilege means to them as part of WBFO's series WNY Conversations About Race.
The 5-part radio series includes Black and white activists, clergymen, educators and business people talking about racism, empathy and diversity in Western New York on-air this week, with extended versions of those edited conversations available online each day or as a bonus afternoon edition of the WBFO Brief podcast.
“How do I ensure that my kids have access to the things they need,” Besch said. “So they have an equal opportunity to be successful down the road? And that includes not just physical access to the school, but ensuring that they have platform and spaces that are theirs when they get here. Ensuring that they have representation of their experience and their curriculum with their faculty.”
Besch sees a problem with the lack of diversity among teachers in private and independent schools.
“We don’t do enough culturally, nationally, societally, ensuring that our teachers are diverse,” he said.
Robertson feels he is best suited as a role model and resource, providing invaluable lessons to boys and young men of color in the City of Buffalo. He too believes more needs to be done in city schools to hire more teachers of color.
“One of the things we do with Breaking Barriers is push and promote youth voice,” he said. “And our young people, they have voiced their concern about not seeing teachers that look like them, and while I’m aware of several initiatives that are in place to start to address this issue, it’s not enough. When I walk into certain school buildings I don’t see the representation, and when I do see the representation we are in roles of the coach, possibly a gym teacher, few administrators here and there. Places where you really need those influences are in the classroom.”