Amiri Nash keeps a picture of his 11th grade English teacher, Tiffany Jackson, on the wall of his college dorm room. He considers her family and one of his greatest inspirations. \u201cI think the thing that makes Ms. Jackson so different from other teachers is the way that she applies the world to lessons,\u201d says Nash, now a sophomore at Brown University in Providence, RI. \u201cShe doesn\u2019t remove life from the work that she does.\u201d One of Nash\u2019s favorite lessons from Jackson\u2019s class was her use of Beyonc\u00e9\u2019s Lemonade to teach the basics of rhetorical analysis. And he says that when he\u2019s having a tough day in his college English classes, he thinks back to Jackson\u2019s teaching style to stay motivated. \u201cI think that seeing how much Ms. Jackson owned being an English teacher and owned the English language gives me the courage and the hope and the possibility to know that I\u2019m doing the right thing,\u201d Nash says. Nash met Jackson when he was a student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Despite attending the school to study classical piano, Nash recently declared English as his major at Brown. \u201cI would never have done that if it wasn\u2019t for Ms. Jackson\u2019s class,\u201d Nash says. \u201cI wouldn\u2019t have seen how nonconventional and exciting English could be.\u201d Black educators show students what\u2019s possible While at Brown, Nash has been making headlines \u2013 literally. He founded and runs The Black Star Journal , the school\u2019s new publication for Black students. Nash credits the critical-thinking skills he learned in Jackson's class with helping him to launch the newspaper. \u201cMs. Jackson is a very grounding person and I think that taking her class was a very transformative experience because it gave me the tools to think beyond what I can see just in front of me,\u201d he says. Passionate about social justice, Nash is kicking around the idea of attending law school. He's also passionate about pursuing journalism. Jackson helped plant that seed too. It was through her class that Nash was connected with Press Pass Mentors, a program that allowed him to shadow a reporter at The Washington Post and learn more about that world. But Jackson is reluctant to take credit for the accomplishments of Nash and other high-achieving students. \u201cAmiri was a genius when he got to me,\u201d Jackson says. \u201cAnd that is something that I really try to instill in the kids, that the genius is innate. It\u2019s already there.\u201d Instead, she says it\u2019s her job to help bring out that genius, partly by exposing students to opportunities like Press Pass Mentors. \u201cTeachers are important because a teacher is a gatekeeper,\u201d she says. \u201cWhat if I was someone who didn\u2019t believe that all of them have genius in them?\u201d This is one of the many reasons she believes it\u2019s important for Black students to have Black educators. Currently, however, only 7% of K-12 teachers are Black. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case ended segregation in schools, tens of thousands of Black teachers lost their jobs, leaving a gap in our educational system that has never been closed. But teachers like Jackson are determined to build a bridge. Jackson, who has worked in education for 15 years, has taught solely in her hometown of Washington, D.C. because it\u2019s important to her to give back to the community in which she grew up. She can\u2019t remember a time when she didn\u2019t want to be a teacher, she says, a calling inspired by her love of school and her vivid memories of her own favorite teacher, Ms. Gloria P. Walton. \u201cSchool was a production for her,\u201d Jackson says. \u201cI fell in love with the idea that learning is something we can see and feel and hear.\u201d When asked the number one lesson she hopes her students learn from her, Jackson quickly answers, \u201cThat they have tools to think their way through any situation.\u201d Teachers need support to tell the truth Currently, Jackson teaches at the KIPP DC College Preparatory. That means her curriculum could be directly impacted by legislation seeking to ban Critical Race Theory from schools. \u201cY\u2019all going to have to get over me telling the kids this whole truth\u2014the unvarnished, unpolished, unapologetic truth\u2014because they need to know it,\u201d she says. \u201cIgnorance is not bliss; it's detrimental to humanity. There\u2019s no Amiri talking about going to law school or starting a paper without us talking about race in a plain and thoughtful way in high school.\u201d To recruit and retain more Black educators in K-12 schools, Jackson believes that, first and foremost, teachers need what any employee needs. \u201cOn the surface it\u2019s the things we all need,\u201d Jackson says. \u201cWe need to be getting paid well. We cannot continue to survive in a world where all these costs are going up around us and teachers are working massive amounts of hours and not getting paid for what they put in.\u201d But just as important as salary is how teachers are treated on the job. \u201cWe shouldn\u2019t have to deal with the badgering that we do on all types of levels,\u201d Jackson says of the harsh criticism and disparaging remarks many teachers often endure, adding that it doesn\u2019t just come from students. \u201cWe get it from parents, we get it from city officials, we get it from administrators and policy makers and congressmen.\u201d Schools also need to get serious about anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion. \u201cRight now, people are playing at it,\u201d Jackson says. \u201cThey\u2019re using the language, but they don\u2019t mean it.\u201d She stresses that schools must create an environment in which Black educators and students feel safe. \u201cHow am I supposed to protect Black boys and girls in a building where my voice is silenced?\u201d Jackson asks. \u201cAdministrators may be talking about my hair and my clothes, so how am I supposed to make sure the kids can do what they need to do and can explore themselves?\u201d Jackson notes that dress codes for both students and adults typically are biased against women, girls, and Black people. \u201cStyles of clothes and hair that are natural and culturally relevant to us are often the ones deemed \u2018unprofessional\u2019 or \u2018inappropriate,\u2019\u201d Jackson says. While she says she hasn\u2019t directly been reprimanded, she\u2019s seen a fellow teacher fired for wearing a short skirt, and another tasked with policing the dress of other adults. \u201cI always worry about what I have on and what style my hair is in when getting ready for school each day,\u201d Jackson says. Taking her lessons into the world Outside the classroom, Jackson also serves as the lead consultant for Black Girls Teach, an organization that seeks to empower and connect Black women educators by offering community and networking opportunities as well as professional and personal development, advocacy and career advancement initiatives. \u201cWe offer them a chance to commune and grow and learn in spaces made just for them,\u201d Jackson says of Black Girls Teach. While Jackson believes it\u2019s important for Black students like Amiri to have Black educators, she thinks it\u2019s equally important for non-Black students to be exposed to a diverse group of teachers. She remembers one of her non-Black students remarking to her how having Black teachers and Black friends helped him better understand the power of listening. \u201cHe said, \u2018I don\u2019t always have the answer. I need to listen,\u2019\u201d Jackson recalls. \u201cThat changed how he showed up in the world.\u201d For educators like Jackson, teaching isn\u2019t a job; it\u2019s their life\u2019s work. \u201cTeaching is a craft that must be honored and protected,\u201d Jackson says. \u201cBlack educators are critical to the profession, and when Black educators are teachers, administrators, talent managers, superintendents and policy makers, all our kids will thrive.\u201d Tiffany Jackson What gives you hope about the future? Amiri and his classmates. My kids are making art, dropping mixtapes and starting papers and doing TED Talks and making clothes, living sustainably and they\u2019re empathetic and they\u2019re thoughtful and they\u2019re considerate of each other and they understand the inner workings of humanity and they\u2019re funny. I get to live in their world, and I just can\u2019t wait to see what it\u2019s going to be. They\u2019re my hope. What\u2019s in store for your future? I\u2019m going to hang on to this classroom as long as I can. I have two sons\u2013one is 7 and one is 5\u2013I\u2019m going to raise. I\u2019m going to continue to work on Black Girls Teach, making sure we do the work to retain and hire and bring quality Black thinkers and creators into the classroom for our kids. Why is thinking about the future important? Liberation starts with dreams. Harriet Tubman had that dream to get off of that plantation. You have to dream about it. You have to give yourself the space to imagine what it could be. We don\u2019t get a future if we don\u2019t think about it now\u2013or we don\u2019t get the one that we want. We get somebody else\u2019s. Amiri Nash What gives you hope about the future? As a Black person, what gives me hope about the future is being able to reflect critically about the past and see how far we\u2019ve been able to come and really build off of the strength of the people that came before me. If they did that and they only had this, just imagine how much I can do and just imagine how much the people after me can do. What\u2019s in store for your future? When I think of my future, I think of being creative and leaving the world a better place than it was when I came into it. So, I definitely think creativity is in my future, but I also think that healing for myself and other people is in my future. Why is thinking about the future important? People are really blessed to be alive and have the chance to do something with the future. We have a chance to really make that future something that works better for all of us. This story was created as part of Future Rising in partnership with Lexus. Future Rising is a series running across Hearst Magazines to celebrate the profound impact of Black culture on American life, and to spotlight some of the most dynamic voices of our time. Go to oprahdaily.com/futurerising for the complete portfolio.