Huston-Tillotson student carries on teaching legacy, pledges to be 1 of 100 Black men added to the education workforce


Photo of Hillary-Rhys Richard at Huston-Tillotson University. (Photo Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Education has always been fundamental to Huston-Tillotson University student Hillary Rhys Richard’s upbringing.

He had to write a paper to convince his mother to get him a video gaming system.

“I was like, ‘but mom, I’m in the third grade,'” recalled Richard. He is proud to be the fourth generation of a line of teachers in his family, but he’ll be the first man after his great-grandmother, grandmother and mother.

Hillary-Rhys Richard (Photo Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)
Hillary-Rhys Richard (Photo Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)

“With that story in mind, that shows how deep teaching is, how important education is in our family,” he said. “The fact that I’m the only male in this scenario makes me more inspired, every single day I think about everything, it becomes more inspiration.”

In three years, he’ll be one of 100 Black male teachers Huston-Tillotson has promised to add to the workforce, in partnership with Apple. The university is the only HBCU to commit to the pledge as of this report.

The vision flourished with the catalyst and force that is Huston-Tillotson’s President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette.

“In my own life, raising a black male, I saw the impact it had on him,” explained Dr. Pierce Burnette, as she remembered a teacher one of her children had who made a huge difference in his life.

What started as a conversation in Burnette’s kitchen turned into a full-fledged support program after a pitch to Apple.

Not to mention, the disparity spotlights the need. Data an Apple representative shared with KXAN shows a mere 2% of teachers in the United States are Black men.

Hillary-Rhys Richard. (Photos Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)
Hillary-Rhys Richard. (Photos Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)

Though he says education was already part of his heritage, thus influencing him, that statistic surprised and inspired Richard.

“I realized that the color of my skin is extremely important, and if I can find another Black or brown student of mine in my field I’m trying to do, I can change a whole entire kid’s life, and I think that’s something really special,” he said.

Richard did not have one Black male teacher growing up.

Thanks to the joint effort and the work of Huston-Tillotson faculty and staff, the program aims to change that.

“You see yourself in a person and when you see yourself in a person that gives you self-efficacy, self-confidence, it shows you where you can go,” said Burnette. “Data shows if a child of color sees at least one person of their same color, their same culture, they will more likely persist to continue in higher education.”

“If I’m teaching someone that looks like me, that’s going to impact them,” Richard added.

The university is providing what includes full-ride scholarships for the program’s students, Apple hardware and software and professional development courses for students and faculty — including a mentorship program with area school districts.

“If I were able to make a Black or brown student happy to come to school, just make them happy, that in itself is a win to me. For them to think about being a teacher because of me, that actually makes me want to cry a little bit, but I’m on camera so I’m not going to do that, but I think that’s part of why I love being a teacher — helping and inspiring.”

Hillary-Rhys Richard, freshman at Huston-Tillotson University
Hillary-Rhys Richard in high school band. (Photo Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)
Hillary-Rhys Richard in high school band. (Photo Courtesy of his mother: Astrya Richard)

“We have connections with Apple on other things, but this is one of those where they really stepped up to the plate,” said Burnette. “Our passion about it was contagious.”

The university is receiving applications for students to be a part of the program and is working on perfecting its details as they receive more and more applicants.

“Award-winning teachers of the year across the nation will be some of our Black male teachers who went through this Apple pre-Education scholarship program,” said Burnette.

Richard plans to become a high school band director to share his passion for music — he plays the guitar, tuba and piano, among other instruments. “Including everybody, being a good teacher and passing down my knowledge,” are his big three priorities for when he achieves his goal.

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