'We want to support the Black educators, that’s first and foremost'
Kevin Bacon is the new president of the Oregon Alliance of Black School Educators.
Kevin Bacon, the new president of the Oregon Alliance of Black School Educators (ORABSE), had a calling early on to become a public school educator.
As a young boy, Bacon would make lesson plans for a group of friends in his apartment building about the adventures they would discover together. As a fourth-grader, he’d find himself taking mental notes on what worked or didn’t work with the ways teachers interacted with students or taught their subjects.
Then after school, Bacon would regularly settle in front of the family television set to watch the now-late actor Lloyd Haynes portray the charismatic and well-loved Black teacher Pete Dixon on “Room 222.” This popular, half-hour television series about a multiracial Los Angeles high school ran for 113 episodes, from 1969 to 1974. Bacon often found himself daydreaming about having a career like the character Dixon.
““It was one of the first TV shows that portrayed African American characters in a positive way,” Bacon said. “That had an impact on me.”
Those collective group of clues pushed Bacon toward a career path as a middle school teacher in the 1980s, pseudo school administrative positions in the 90s, and ultimately a principal at all three levels elementary, middle and high before he retired in 2018.
Bacon says one of the reasons he was drawn to take over ORABSE was his interactions with other Black educators during his first year as a Portland Public Schools educator in 1986, when he was in his 20s.
“So, when I started teaching in Portland and went to the first couple meetings, some of the legendary names were in the room,” Bacon said. “Some of them became sort of informal mentors. I knew where to go if I needed anything. More so than anything, it showed me the possibilities of a career in education in Portland.”
The Black mentors who were there to help him included Dr. Matthew Prophet Jr., who became the PPS superintendent in 1982, served for 10 years, and was named among the top 100 outstanding school managers in North America.
Some of the others were Dr. Ernest Hartzog, who worked in education for over 60 years, including a position as an assistant superintendent for PPS. Hartzog founded the national chapter of Black School Educators in 1973, which now has 30 affiliates, and the Oregon chapter in 1975; Harriet Adair, who worked for PPS for 47 years and retired in 2017 as an assistant school superintendent; Ken Berry, who worked in education for 44 years, 20 as a school administrator, before retiring as an elementary school principal in 2003 and Leila Roberts, who worked in Portland Public Schools for 40 years, both as a teacher and as a principal.
For much of his career, Bacon was active in ORABSE. So once he retired from education, he wanted to infuse more energy into an organization that had been so instrumental in helping shape his career.
“I really wanted to get on the board because the focus of ORABSE shrunk to just the scholarship banquet,” Bacon said. “They were only doing that because they didn’t have capacity to do more. It was all volunteer. So, I decided to throw my hat in to run for president and nobody ran against me. It was one of those things that nobody else had time and/or interest to do.”
Since Bacon took over leadership, the organization’s membership has expanded from only 30 members to 120 around the state. The group took on a new acronym, switching from OABSE to ORABSE to avoid confusion with the Ohio chapter’s acronym and designed a new website - https://www.orabse.org , ORABSE became a member of the Black Student Success Network, an Oregon Community Foundation Program, and received almost $100,000.
The funds have been used to hire the first part-time administrative assistant and also will allow ORABSE to provide professional development and services to member educators, develop a culturally specific curriculum about Oregon’s Black history, and hire a Program Manager.
ORABSE also partnered with the Oregon Department of Education to organize three events in May 2021 that featured Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. It is also expanding its partnership with other education-related organizations, including the Educator Advancement Council.
Bacon also created several committees to take on some of the workload, and just completed a strategic planning process in April where Black educators from the Portland Metro area, Central, Southern and other parts of rural Oregon participated.
Bacon estimates Oregon has about 1,000 Black teachers working in classrooms around the state. But he is also aware of Black professionals who are district administrators, counselors, educational assistants or even employees at colleges and universities.
He plans to expand ORABSE’s services to include helping all types of Black educators find job opportunities, get connected with legal or other advocacy resources and have access to professional development and curriculum resources.
“We want to support the Black educators; that’s first and foremost,” Bacon said. “And then we want to be a part of helping supervise the expertise of working with Black students. There’s lot of organizations working on that and we want to do our part and bring our expertise and lead the way in educating Black students to make sure our kids are getting what they need.”