GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a place where books are paramount, children don’t always find relatable characters.

Malachi Eddie, 12, has never had a Black teacher. He said he’s only seen one Black woman lead a classroom, and it wasn’t his. He told News 8 he believes it would be beneficial to have a Black teacher because it would give him someone to identify with.

“I would be able to relate to that teacher a lot more,” said Malachi Eddie, a student at City High Middle School. “They may even teach me stuff that might be more helpful than if other teachers taught me stuff, and that would be really cool.”

Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows Black students who have at least one Black teacher by third grade are 13% more likely to graduate from high school and 19% more likely to enroll in college than their Black peers who don’t have any Black teachers.

“It socializes children to an extent they don’t even realize,” said Eddie’s mom, Anissa.

She added that diversity in the classroom would benefit white students too.

“To have that in a teacher can disrupt stereotypes, can dispel myths and can really help them to have a personal reference point when they think about a whole cultural group,” said Anissa Eddie.

About 32% of students enrolled in Grand Rapids Public Schools are Black. Of the 1,022 teachers who work in the district, 6% are Black. Most of them work with elementary students.

Superintendent Leadriane Roby said she is working to recruit and retain more Black teachers, but it’s an uphill climb. 

A spokesperson for the district said that work is a part of the district’s Strategic Theme No. 5 of the new GRPS Strategic Plan, which focuses on talent retention and recruitment.

“From a societal standpoint, we have beat up on teachers, both literally and culturally, where it doesn’t always feel appealing,” said Roby. “We have some work to do in GRPS.”

Roby said low pay, a lack of respect and unpleasant memories as Black, grade-school students also discourage Black people from becoming educators.

“Black and brown students are more likely to be identified for special education or remedial supports, ” said Roby. “That sends a message, too, again, that’s not for me.”

Research shows one of the best ways to encourage and inspire Black children is to hire more Black male teachers. There are only 14 of them teaching in GRPS, compared to 49 Black women teaching in the district.

“When you have a male teacher of color, it’s like a unicorn,” said Roby.

Imagine if that character existed in Malachi Eddie’s story and how empowered he would feel seeing himself in his teacher.

“If they can do it, I can do it,” said Malachi Eddie.

Perhaps it could motivate him to become an educator, making grade school one of the best chapters of his life.

“I just think that would be really cool and really amazing to have a Black teacher,” said Malachi Eddie.