Leadership lies at very center of Governors State University Assistant Professor Marlon Cummings’ character. And he loves it.
He loves shaping and molding leaders in his School Improvement Process classes at Governors State University.
He loves inspiring his friends and family to go into education, a field that afforded his mother a 40-year career.
But Cummings, Interim Director of the Interdisciplinary Leadership Doctorate Program, doubles over with laughter when he talks about young children in a Saturday tutoring program where he volunteers.
“They run up to me and say, ‘Hey, Dr. C, what’s going on?’ I l-o-v-e that.”
A passion to help children succeed drove Cummings to work with members of his South Side church almost 10 years ago. What began as a Saturday morning activity with school-age children soon grew into a program that has exceeded its goal to help students improve reading and math skills.
They are drawn to his light, and he is inspired by theirs. “We have to develop young people into leaders so that they can develop the next generation. We need schools and leaders that can rise and shine.”
The son of an educator, Cummings is a graduate of a historically black college who looks to legends W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington (their black and white images hang in his office) as he forges his own legacy.
The ability to step up where needed is likely a quality that led the university to tap the junior faculty member for an Interim Director position, shortly after he assumed the role of the coordinator for the Superintendent Concentration. Among other committees, Cummings is a vital part of the much lauded Male Success Initiative, a GSU enrichment program for male students, particularly men of color, that helps participants develop a game plan for success, from orientation to graduation.
Off campus, Cummings is a cog that powers the wheels of his extended community as part of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, a Local School Council Representative at Burke Elementary, and, of course, the tutoring program at his church where he sits on the leadership team.
His commitment is more of a mandate. “I come from the thinking, “Those who can, should, and if I don’t, who will?”
GSU Newsroom: You worked as a middle school teacher in Washington, D.C., and as a consultant in well-to-do suburban schools. How do issues in urban schools compare with suburban schools where income is often higher?
Cummings: There are similar issues for urban areas and suburban areas when it comes to how kids navigate adolescence. In more urban areas, it might be talking about gym shoes or, “What jersey are you wearing?” In more affluent areas, it might be what car you drive or what kind of bag you have or, “Do your parents have money or are you on scholarship?”
But our goals are consistent: We want all students to be developed as leaders. That calls for an understanding of their role in society. It starts right here in middle school. Are they victims, bullies, or standing by? How do we get those who are standing idly by when their classmates are being bullied to engage?
GSU Newsroom: Why do you say your role as a professor is the best way to influence educational policy?
Cummings: I’ve worked for the state and in education advocacy roles. In organizations like that, we would convene people to talk about policy and it would be educators—my professors from University of Illinois at Chicago--and people I had gone to grad school with speaking. They were asking us about policy, but I realized I wasn’t in a position to speak on policy. I figured out the way you influence policy is as a professor—doing research, getting grants, and getting your work out at a state and national level. This position is where I can have more influence on policy.
GSU Newsroom: How did you and a South Side gas station owner boost attendance at a neighborhood school by five points?
Cummings: I’m on a local school council in Chicago. We work with teachers and people from the community to improve the school. It’s like the local school board for each school. We were having a problem with tardies because kids were stopping at the gas station and be buying candy and chips before school and so they would be late, making our attendance scores low.
We worked with the owner so he could still make money and the kids could be on time. Now, it was tough working with a business because he’s like, ‘I’m trying to make this money.’ But we did it, in part, by allowing him to supply a student run store with candy.
We also empowered adults in the school to say, ‘Hey, if a kid is not here, I’m calling.’ You have to be diligent to make things convenient for parents if you want then to engage. Not all will but a few will. That’s how to you lead.”