At 17, Jordan Smiley already knows exactly what he wants out of life: to be counted among the Black men teaching in the nation’s classrooms, where most will also serve as role models for their younger counterparts.
“I’ve never actually thought about being anything else,” said Jordan, valedictorian of Anacostia Senior High School’s Class of 2010.
“I always thought I’d like to be a teacher so that I can make a difference in the life of other Black children – especially our young Black males,” continued Jordan, who graduated with a 3.4 GPA. “But this year really sealed the deal for me as I watched the new group of teachers come in at Anacostia. They were young and vibrant and seemed to bring a new energy to the teaching field.”
But Jordan said he also noticed a glaring lack of Black male teachers. “I saw a lot of females but not that many Black men in an authority role,” said Jordan.
He said that while his father was in his life, he’d been raised in a single parent household by his mother. “My father wasn’t there all the time, so now I’m involved in a mentoring project with young boys. When I become a teacher, I want to set up my own mentoring program.”
In the midst of eagerly preparing for life at the prestigious, historically Black Hampton University in Virginia—he was also accepted to Morehouse and Tuskegee universities—Jordan took time to share with the AFRO, his excitement and sentiments for the future.
The affable, yet naturally serious youth also talked about meeting first lady Michelle Obama who was the keynote speaker for Anacostia’s graduation ceremony, and how her gentle words of encouragement will always be with him. “It was both a nerve-wrecking and happy occasion having the first lady there,” Jordan recalled, “because I was going to be speaking to an audience that was the largest I’d ever spoken to and she tried to coach me through by telling me to try not to be nervous.
“She reminded me that it was a time for me to take in and enjoy because, after all, it was my graduation, too.”
That advice proved effective, as Jordan—who’d already cemented his oratorical skills countless times in various leadership capacities at Anacostia—received a standing ovation for his words of inspiration to his fellow classmates. Most are following his footsteps into colleges and universities this fall.
“That just goes to show that because we live in Southeast [D.C.] doesn’t mean we can’t be successful and go on to even higher achievements,” Jordan said. According to school officials about 90 percent of Jordan’s graduating class is expected to go off to college this fall.
Shaneka Hope, cluster leader at Friendship Public Charter High School, which partnered this year with Anacostia, described Jordan as a natural leader. “He’s someone who’s highly regarded in the school and a lot of his peers look up to him,” Hope said.
Marcus Moore, director of an initiative geared toward improving the school’s academic performance, also spoke highly of Jordan, saying Jordan has consistently exhibited initiative and a desire for continuous personal growth. “That just speaks to the character and drive that Jordan has,” Moore said.
Starting classes at Hampton on Aug. 27 means that Jordan, a sports enthusiast who excels at football, track and baseball, will be first person in his family to explore higher education.
His first year is being paid for through scholarships and Jordan said he hopes to land a work-study job as well. He plans to hit the ground running, and by his junior year, to have established himself as one of the country’s future young leaders.
Jordan said he’ll miss his friends and realizes he’ll have to make new ones.
However, he added, he doesn’t think he’ll be so eager to visit home—which also consists of an older brother and two younger sisters— once classes begin.
“At least I don’t think I’m going to be home sick right off,” he said with a twinkle eye.
“My mom and I have a bet going that whoever calls first—she or me—after [my family] drops me off at Hampton, has to pay the other $50. I’m holding out, hoping it won’t be me.”