Every Month is Black History Month. February Is Just the Blackest!

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.” -James Baldwin

The Eagles have celebrated their first national championship since 1960 and their first Super Bowl victory.  Although I chose not to watch a single game this year, and harbored secret hopes that the Eagles would sign Kaepernick, I was happy to read about the growing activism of members of the Eagles.

Activism by professional athletes is an important part of our legacy and even a cursory look at Black History can help people understand the role that athletes have played to call out oppression and bring about social change.

Malcolm Jenkins, Lane Johnson, Chris Long, and others have protested police violence, protested during the “national” anthem, engaged policy makers, and donated money to our cash-strapped district that is still suffering from our state legislature’s inequitable decisions in school funding.

All-year long, Malcolm Jenkins has been writing columns for The Philadelphia Citizen, some of which I distributed to our students. Working to elevate awareness of the massive injustices in Philadelphia’s and America’s criminal justice system, Jenkins, not only wrote, but also traveled with Long and others to the capital to promote legislation that could give low-level nonviolent offenders a “Clean Slate” to support them in being able to work and contribute to society. Jenkins joined Black Lives Matter activists in lobbying for bail system reform and demanded that our state end the life without parole sentencing for juveniles.

Sports as Social Justice

Sports provides myriad opportunities for conscious educators  to discuss how athletes who have embraced activism use their platforms to resist America’s racism and white supremacy—publicly and loudly.

Educators can use lessons to help students notice the patterns of racism, bigotry, and inequity, and help them to dismantle it.  

For example, you’d be hard pressed to find a Black person who was shocked that after the Eagles won the Super Bowl and some White people were seen “celebrating” like some type of fanatic, they weren’t met with tanks, tear gas, and violence. Juxtapose that image with one of Black people protesting the state sanctioned murder of unarmed Black people by police in the streets of this country.

 

Black Lives Matter President (New York) Hawk Newsome told Newsweek:

Somehow, it seems there’s a line drawn in the sand where destruction of property because of a sports victory is OK and acceptable in America. However, if you have people who are fighting for their most basic human right, the right to live, they will be condemned.

Educators, there’s so much to dive into:

  • Exploitation of Black bodies
  • Double standard in how police respond to Black civic unrest and riots from gleeful sports fanatics
  • Super wealthy White folks’ attempts to marginalize and silence Black protests
  • Concussions, brain injuries
  • College, profits, and Black athletes

The School-to-Activism Pipeline

While our students are growing up hearing #45 call any athlete who protested police violence during an anthem (that wasn’t created for the nation, but solely for land owning White men) a “son of a bitch,” that should be fired, resisters of all shape and professions have to step up.

Educators and activists play a role in ensuring students are on the school-to-activism pipeline. This can be done by diving into conversations that help them to connect the dots, learn from others’ experiences, and practice activism in their own ways.

Just like racism and apathy aren’t just images and words in history textbooks, neither is the activism of some professional athletes. As we tell our students, no matter what your profession, you can lead and serve in your community. Black History is yours to make.

Thank you to the Eagles who found ways to demonstrate this to our students.

 

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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3 Comments

  • Kudos to you for walking the walk as you talk the talk! We have an obligation to teach our students constancy and consistency through our behavior!

  • Well met!

    Since this is usually an education blog, please allow me to speak about teaching.

    The Eagles are fortunate to have a Coach AND a teacher at the helm. Other teams are not so lucky; they STILL just don’t get what that means.

    The Coaching Staff was able to create a culture of camaraderie, family, and brotherhood amongst this team and that is what teaching is about. We all of us are important to success and we all bring each other along in the process. A good teacher instills this in their students.

    Almost every year I taught as an ESL teacher in the Philadelphia Public Schools, I received foreign-born children as third grade who spent three years in school, (K, 1, 2,) who were written off because they didn’t learn to read. Not only did I teach them to read and write, but also most of them were on par with their English-speaking classmates but surpassed them before they graduated sixth grade.

    Was this accomplished the same way in the same manner with each year with a new group of non-readers? No. Cannot be done.

    A pity the current education establishment doesn’t understand this.

    The Eagles had many players who were also written off, as we often are, and it took faith and trust to allow these players to be themselves and do what they needed to do to keep the team together for success. The new culture established by the coaching staff contributed to their success. Teachers HAVE to be allowed the freedom and autonomy to do this.

    My mother’s cousin was an Olympic sprinter and Principal of Gratz High School back in the day. He grew up on the same block and went to the same high school with Wilt Chamberlin. I know what he went through and what Black athletes endure in the name of equity and Social Justice.

    Education is important and matters a lot as to expectations about what one can achieve, whether it be in sports, social justice or whatever. I believe Kaepernick knows this, and his stance was not only about him, but a part of the whole. If we can get people to respect learning and education, it can go a long way. Heaven knows we already have the determination to survive and succeed.

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