As the Class of 2022 prepares for Commencement, May 6–7, The College Today will highlight how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what the future holds.
Pierre “PJ” Edwards II doesn’t recall ever having an African American male teacher. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Edwards grew up on James Island where he attended public K-12 schools.
“I was one of those kids on the outskirts,” says Edwards. “There weren’t very many people who looked like me at school.”
That’s part of what makes the Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) program essential for future educators like Edwards, who will graduate from the College of Charleston on Saturday, May 7, 2022, with a degree in physical education. The goal of the Call Me MISTER program is to increase the pool of male teachers from diverse backgrounds, particularly African American male teachers.
“The MISTERS program literally means everything to me,” says Edwards, whose first taste of teaching came in high school when he worked for the Charleston County School District’s after school program and saw firsthand the need for more African American male teachers. “It’s a brotherhood of like-minded individuals who share the same passion and, although some of us come from different walks of life, our passions and goals are the same.”
And a passion for teaching runs in his family: Edward’s older sister Sharmaine Roaden ’11 is a Spanish teacher and inspired him to follow her path from CofC to the classroom.
Edwards will be the first to tell you that his journey through college was a long time coming. He wasn’t a traditional college student when he came to the College in 2013. With a goal of staying debt free, he commuted 30 minutes to campus to attend classes full time, while also juggling four jobs.
“In 2017 I became mentally and physically exhausted to the point that I could no longer keep up,” says Edwards, who had to take a three-year break before resuming classes in 2020. “I use my story to inspire others to persevere, lean into those who truly support them and remember that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I advocate for male educators to be unapologetically authentic with themselves and to the young lives they’ll impact – to change the narrative and societal perspective about us and lastly to not let passion be mistaken for arrogance.”
Edwards says he would not have made it to the finish line at the College if it hadn’t been for the professors who offered him “100% support.” A few of these important educators include the late Floyd Breeland, former director of the College’s Call Me MISTER program and South Carolina state representative; Rénard Harris, vice president of access and inclusion and chief diversity officer at CofC; Karen Smail, associate professor of health and human performance; and Anthony James ’12 (M.A.T.), CofC’s director of minority education and outreach and the Call Me MISTER program. Edwards is also grateful to have received the Constantina P. Padgett Education Scholarship and a scholarship through a grant from Dominion Energy, both of which have helped enable him to fulfill his goal of graduating debt free.
“Pierre’s story is one of determination and perseverance,” says James. “After some personal hardships that impacted his academics, he left the College. He returned after a three-year hiatus, and the moment he stepped on campus, he assumed the role of mentor and leader for many of the younger MISTERs. He shared the stories of his hardship and what he had to do to overcome them. Despite struggling during his first stint at the College, Pierre returned and excelled academically. He had a 3.7 GPA his first year back. He often shares that his passion for educating children is his strongest motivator. I’m so proud of Pierre, and I know he will be a fantastic physical education teacher.”
After graduation Edwards hopes to use the skills he’s learned to advocate for the physical and emotional well-being of young males from diverse backgrounds. As a basketball coach at St. Johns High School, a rural island school located about 30 minutes from the CofC campus, he has found that “whether it’s paddle boarding or pickle ball, there’s a form of fitness for everyone. This is the best time in their lives to establish healthy habits, which – in turn – gives kids a boost in self-confidence.”
This fall he’ll put all that he has learned to use in his first official teaching job at Charleston Charter School for Math and Science. Smail says Edwards’ future students should count themselves lucky.
“Pierre is an inspiration and role model whose presence in the classroom transforms the experience for all students,” she says. “Pierre embodies the expression ‘life-long learner’ as he strives to instill in each of his students the passion for movement. Pierre is the teacher you want your child to have.”