As a senior in high school at what she says is a fairly diverse school, Akira Shorter has never had a black teacher.

She isnt alone in that. Arizona Department of Education reports that only 4% of teachers in the state are black, which leaves many students of color without an educator that looks like them.

The Director of African American Services for Tucson Unified School District, Dr. Tonya Strozier said that having a teacher who understands your culture can make an impact on young learners.

Black educators can make such a difference in a students sense of belonging and their connection, she said. That ultimately results in greater academic gains.

Strozier was the teacher of a workshop for those looking to be Black Educators. It is part of the 14th annual African American Youth Heritage Day put on by Tucson Educational Empowerment for Minorities, or TEEM.

The first African American Youth Heritage event that TEEM held was at the Dunbar Pavilion. It had less than 100 students.

TEEM President, Marie Cephers, started the event to celebrate Black History Month after finding that Black students in Tucson didnt have anything to commemorate it. It brings together Black students from all over Tucson, public schools and private schools, no matter the district.

This event is an extension of TEEMs mission to inspire Black students to pursue higher education and to help them along the way. Along with career workshops, like the one for future Black educators, TEEM invited representatives from the fire department, military and different colleges in Arizona.

Cephers said that the representation these representatives provide is important for young people picturing their futures.

You never think you can achieve that goal if you never see anybody living the dream, she said. So, if theyre living the dream, you say oh if they did it, its possible. So we give them hope, and not only hope, heres a living example.

The living example that many students, like Shorter, wished that they had in school. Shorter said the only black educator she has come across at her school was the proctor for In School Suspension, or ISS. She used to purposefully get in trouble to go see that teacher.

Now, she wants to make sure the next generation of students can feel safe elsewhere.

I want to be a safe place, she said. A safe haven, or a stop on someones journey where they feel completely and utterly safe.