December 2018

Barry White, Jr.

Barry White, Jr.

Although Barry White Jr.’s name may not be known around the world, his passion for teaching is. And all because of a handshake.

White, a fifth-grade teacher at Charlotte’s Ashley Park Elementary, believes students will see learning as exciting and fun when they have a connection with a teacher they believe genuinely cares about them.

A fan of NBA star LeBron James, White had seen James build excitement among his teammates with pre-game handshakes. So when a student greeted White on the way into class one morning, White created a “secret” handshake with the youngster.

Soon, all his students, and many others in the school, were clamoring for their own choreographed greeting with their energetic, dapperly-dressed teacher.

“The energy it brought was astounding,” he said. “It really created an atmosphere that made the kids excited to be in the classroom, ready to learn.”

White has developed multiple routines, each unique and many very intricate.

“I know the certain moves that go with certain kids because it’s personalized,” he said. “For example, some of my students are on the step team I started. We step a little bit in their handshakes.”

A video of White greeting his students was posted online and quickly went viral, eventually leading to a studio appearance on NBC’s Today show.

The experience illustrated a lesson White continually tries to impart to students: be true to yourself.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be perfect and almost become like a robot,” he said. “But if you will be authentic and be true to who you are, you will see results manifest before your eyes.”

A native New Yorker, White attended Claflin University in Orangeburg, SC. Graduating in 2014, he landed his first teaching job in Jasper County and quickly found a small-town lifestyle was not for him.

“Being a New Yorker, I was really craving to get back to a city.”

White moved to Charlotte in 2015, drawn by the students he met on a tour of Ashley Park and the sense of family that existed among the faculty and staff. He was also impressed by the strong emphasis on developing relationships that make a difference for students both inside and outside the classroom, teaching lessons that linger as the students move on through life.

White has a burning desire for his students to succeed academically and as people of character. He encourages them to embrace their individuality, while being respectful of others’ uniqueness, as well.

“I try to tell them that it’s okay to be different,” he said. “I encourage them to be excited about life, to be innovative and creative. That’s where you find authenticity.”

And it’s a lesson he teaches daily with a handshake.

–by Cassandra Talabi