Tyler James Williams hopes his talent solves a real issue in America. The “Abbott Elementary” star plays Gregory on the show, a young Black male teacher constantly learning how to handle the gentle nature of children while maintaining their respect like he’s had for his father. While having a discussion with W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO and president La June Montgomery Tabron at the 2023 Essence Festival of Culture, Williams wore a shirt with a simple message: “We need Black teachers.”
“Equity in the early lives of children and child care is something I think a lot of people don’t really focus on,” Williams said. “It was one of the things I found most interesting.”
Williams then asked how Tabron’s foundation helps to bridge the gap in the lack of Black educators.
“Our work is about the entire development cycle of a child,” Tabron said. “So when we talk about early childhood education and development, it’s from zero, it’s prenatal, and it definitely looks at those early years prior to entering the K-12 system.
“When I reflect on ‘Abbott Elementary,’ and think about the resources, it really requires to prepare a child and you see the reality of the lack of those resources, and what our teachers and caregivers must do. What we know is in early childhood, our providers are underpaid, they’re not well prepared. We saw this during the pandemic.”
Tabron then asked Williams what he wants children to get from watching the show, and what they should experience while being in school.
“First and foremost, [students should know] they’re cared about,” Williams said. “I think when you have a school system that does not supply their needs, the message you send to them is they do not matter and then that permeates throughout their lives. They feel as if their voices do not matter, that they hold no value.”