I’m Fighting For the Liberation of the 7th Ward Where ‘Education is the Problem of Problems’

Many of our greatest community activists, freedom fighters, and nation builders spoke to us about the sanctity of a rigorous education and how it must be used to uplift, embolden, and liberate. Douglass, Malcolm, Martin, Newton, DuBois, and countless others, all spoke about using tools at our disposal to secure the highest levels of education for our children in order to secure and ensure our collective future.

In 1896, W.E.B DuBois was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania to study the Black population of Philadelphia. Although he was not even given an office or a professorship at Penn, he did in-depth and tireless research, cataloging thousands of interviews of people in Philadelphia’s Black community. To aid his monumental task, he divided the neighborhoods where Black people resided into 37 wards. The most populous one, where most of the Black folks lived, was the 7th Ward.

Today, all of Philadelphia, in my eyes, represents the 7th Ward.

DuBois recognized the importance of the mindset and actions of educators “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” He insisted that education was integral to the development of society and to implement social and educational justice we must act with urgency, “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season…”

In his essay, “The Immortal Child,” DuBois makes several salient points that are just as relevant 100 years later:

If we realized that children are the future, that immortality is the present child, that … [nothing] is a whit more pressing than the menace of ignorance, and that no nation tomorrow will call itself civilized which does not give every single human being college and vocational training free and under the best teaching force procurable for love or money…Above all we must not forget that the object of all education is the child itself and not what it does or makes.

Liberating The 7th Ward

Today, we witness that the 7th Ward is mired in angry ideologues who spout their theories, blindly wave status quo flags, or securely ride into our communities on their missionary wagons. Many people in these categories fail to focus on (or want) total and decisive liberation of the 7th Ward.

The conversations are dripping with frustrations, deceit, and false choices and narratives. Often, the conversations lack any intelligent recognition of nuance, middle ground, or a third, community-facing way.

In my humble attempt to stand on the shoulders of giants and honor DuBois and other freedom fighters and community activists, I will post about educational justice and other issues that impact our communities. My goal will be to contribute a different voice into the echoing madness that pits one side against another without any real solutions in sight.

As a child of the struggle (a Black Panther Cub) who attended a Pan-African Freedom School in Germantown (Philadelphia), attended middle school in Iran as the child of ex-patriates, and a 23-year veteran educator in Philadelphia’s schools, I hope to humbly add a different voice and perspective to the dialogue about education in our city and beyond.

As a product of community activists and as an adult responsible for my community, I aim to engage families, educators, and other interested citizens to discuss and urgently clear a third way for our communities. We must ensure that the adults impacting our 7th Ward are held accountable for constantly repeating the same tired, false narratives and proven failures, and for displaying rigid, broken mindsets about our children and communities.

When adult politics prevail, our youth, our communities, are set-up to fail.

I intend to contribute and learn, call out, and opine—all on behalf of the Black community that I love and serve. Please know that I am generally agnostic to the types of strategies that people use—as long as they honor the communities they profess to serve, demonstrate success as can be measured by their ability to help our students liberate themselves.

Our students represent our only hope, yet not enough people act on the finality of that oft-repeated statement.

DuBois said:

The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.

I contend that the north and south are mere points on a compass when viewed from this lens. At the end of the day, I firmly believe, that there are “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

My permanent interests lie in the liberation of the Black community of Philadelphia—the liberation of the 7th Ward.

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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