It’s Bigger Than Charlottesville

This post is from an email I received from the 

This past weekend, our country witnessed a white-supremacist, neo-nazi rally storm through Charlottesville VA, intimidating counter-protestors and the community at-large, beating people of color, and causing the death of three people.

Let us be clear: we should not be shocked that—in a country literally built with the blood, tears, and forced labor of a stolen people, a country that has, even after emancipation, striven in various ways to maintain the effects of slavery and centuries of racial exclusion through discriminatory institutional practices—white American terrorists work to enact their agenda upon us all. What these events should force us to do is to both reflect upon and act against the racist ideas and forces that have led us to this point.

As school workers, we have a moral obligation to confront these ideas, work with our students to navigate their lived reality, and give them the time and space in their classrooms to discuss our world.

As teachers in Philadelphia (67% of whom are white), it is incumbent upon all of us to do this difficult work: we know that our students and their families — who are seventy-eight percent black and other people of color — have suffered for generations from the systemic disinvestment in the public resources that, by law and morality, should be available to all. All educators have the responsibility to speak directly not only to overt manifestations of white supremacy but also to the insidious daily realities that white supremacy has produced and continues to maintain.

Along with the responsibility to speak about and acknowledge the truth about the continuing legacy of white supremacy, educators need to also engage in honest dialogue in the classroom around issues concerning the racialized exploitation that is the foundation of our society.

As a caucus with a crucial focus on racial justice, we have taken up this work through a week-long focus with our annual Black Lives Matter Week of Action, supporting the development of African-American History curriculum with the Philadelphia Black History Collaborative, and facilitating conversation around issues of racism and white supremacy through our summer book groups. We pledge to continue this work and to assist all our colleagues in taking up this critical effort. This work will not be comfortable or simple–nor should it be.

The daily reality of our compatriots of color who have lived with the horrifying results of centuries of a white supremacist system has not been comfortable or simple. It is our duty to work in coalition to combat these systemic forces, from the classroom to the community and beyond. Our students deserve to take an active role in this process, as they are moving through these flawed systems each day. Our best opportunity for creating a more equitable world lies in this work to be done with our colleagues, our students, their families, and our shared communities.

I am proud to partner with members of this caucus to advocate and agitate for equity and justice for all. #SolidarityintheStruggle

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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