Learning Change Agent: Jeffery Beckham Jr.

What is your name?  Jeffery Beckham Jr.

Where are you from?  Chicago, Illinois

What organization do you represent?  100 Black Men of Chicago; King College Prep (Local School Council); Foundations College Prep (Board Member)

What are the missions and visions of these organizations? 

Interestingly enough, I think the missions and the visions of all three organizations are very similar. All three organizations aspire to improve educational outcomes for our young people, doing so in neighborhoods that are either underserved or underrepresented in terms of minority leadership; and with the 100 Black Men of Chicago, the core focus and purpose of this organization is mentoring and mentorship.

What impact do you think these organizations have on learning and education?

Foundations College Prep, a charter school in the heart of Roseland, is trying to provide quality education to children that have been largely forgotten about. The founder of the school, Micki O’niel, designed the school in a manner to bring the best of the best to the lowest and poorest children in the [Roseland] community. Instead of bringing the best resources to the North Shore that has the highest property taxes, she desired to bring the best to the neighborhoods that need it the most.  So my role is supporting the school by serving and helping with the marketing efforts and learning structure.  With 100 Black Men of Chicago, the aim is to serve as a mentorship organization for young people who lack mentors in the community.  For King College Prep,  I serve on the local school council as community representative.  This is my second full term that I’m part of [the council]. As the elected community representative, my goal is to bring community resources and funding to help offset the lack of funding in the school. Last year we were fortunate, we had a bit of a surplus, but this year with the budget cuts happening we’re under, so I’m called in now to use my resources and networks to help maintain the success of King College Prep. There’s a lot of great things happening at King College Prep. King needed to rebrand post the tragedy of the death of one of their students, Hadiya Pendleton, due to gun-related violence.  I think we’ve been really successful at highlighting some of the great things that are happening at King. Last year, the First Lady Michelle Obama, came to speak at our commencement, our band has been all over the country winning awards, and King has an outstanding group of young people. MC Lyte [considered one of hip-hop’s pioneer feminists] came to the school last year for a fundraiser.  So, we’ve got some unique and cool things happening.  Concerning education, Principal David Narain, implemented STEM curriculum in the school, there are business courses and our arts program is top notch.  [King College Prep] is doing wonderful things.

What inspired you to get involved in education?

I live by the motto, to whom much is given much is required. I’ve always thought that it is my duty, not just a hobby, to be the change I want to see in the community. So if I’m not actively part of the change, then I can’t complain when I turn on the news and see things happening that are pulling at my heart strings. Instead of just sitting there and saying, “Well that shouldn’t happen, that’s terrible,” I’m making an effort to be in the schools and to be active.

Not only am I involved in the schools that I mentioned, I also speak in a number of schools.  I want young people to see and touch somebody that’s real, that looks like them, and that’s making it. I won’t say I made it yet, I’ll be a ninety-five year old learner and still trying to make it. But, I do want [the students] to see someone that gives them a different focal point. For example, you can be young, you can be an African-American male or female, and you can be cool and smart. I’ll wear my suit one time I go [to a school], and the next time, I’ll wear Jordan’s so [the students] can see the dichotomy. You can live both lives, you can like hip hop and love to read.

If you can change anything regarding education and learning, what would it be?

I love STEM, I’m an engineer.  I think that STEM is wonderful, but I think that we are approaching it from the wrong perspective by making it a program and not a true immersive process.  STEM should not be tied to science, technology, engineering and math, but there should be STEM curriculum and learning in the English class. [Schools] should find ways to actively engage students in STEM in every subject matter, even in gym.  For instance, implementing science and learning inside of gym by talking about basketball and the angle that one shoots in order to make a basket. A STEM  curriculum should be relatable, engaging and less threatening.   Students should realize that they are writing code already when they post to their Facebook page and embed a link from YouTube.

Foundations College Prep incorporates STEM into every aspect. For example, in an English class they’re using a Google doc and Google Drive to write about historical figures and then talk about cloud storage. [The students] are understanding how to use these programs in everyday life and, I think, that that’s something that I really would like to change at a mass level throughout the Chicago Public Schools.

What advice would you give to someone who is in the process of learning something new?

Oh man, ask for help. This is one that I learned the hard way myself. Because I was really gifted at school, I did not want to ask for help.  It is absolutely okay to ask for help. You know, Rome wasn’t built by one person, nor in a day. You need a team to build anything and you can go faster together. I think that that’s something that is really important for young people, and anybody, to understand.  It’s okay when you’re stuck to ask for help.

Even now, as a business owner and an individual that is really engaged in terms of science and learning, I don’t know everything and so I ask for help all the time. There are people out there that are specialists and it’s okay to ask for help. At a beginning level of learning something new, if you’re stuck, don’t sit there stuck.  Don’t waste that time, go get help to move to the next level. We all are standing on the shoulders of someone, whether it’s our ancestors, our parents or people that worked for us to get to where we are.  I think that that’s something that we need to always remember.  We always should be at a thirst to learn and be okay with asking for help and remove the pride out of that.

What does it mean to be a learning change agent?

I think that it means having to be altruistic and taking the focus off yourself. Doing things with good intention to help other people and individuals. Being okay with someone standing on your shoulders and not getting anything back from it, being able to lend a helping hand and not expecting anything from it, and I think that as we do those things more effectively, we can be learning change agents. It also means being inspiring and pushing people to want to be greater.  A learning change agents is also open.  They let people see their experience, what they’ve gone through, and what they’ve become; And if you really want to be a [learning] change agent take people under your wings by mentoring.  That’s why I’m involved in the things that I am. I’m very open and share that I didn’t do [anything] on my own.  We also need to offer young people tangible and functional skills, like how to communicate effectively with other individuals. A lot of our best coders and developers can’t talk to people, so the reason that they’re not making XYZ money or running their own company is because they never learned effective communication skills. So, I think that part of being a learning change agent is being able to mentor, provide tool sets, and help people grow in this ongoing life journey that’s education and learning.

Photo Credit:  Chicago Community Trust

Learning Change Agents are game changers in education. They are affiliated with organizations that are providing meaningful and passion-driven learning experiences to learners of all ages. The featured Learning Change Agents (and their organization) will be eligible to receive funds from the LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel. LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel is a clothing line that consists of limited edition fashion T-shirts that include unique designs that focus on rebranding the perception of learning and education from test-driven and rote memorization to meaningful, relevant and passion driven learning experiences.  Customers and supporters of LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel and these organizations will select the organization(s) that should receive a portion of the profits received from each collection. Visit and shop the online store hosted by Threadless. Together we are change agents.

Share this:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *