Here’s What I Told My Black Students to Remember Now That Trump Is President-Elect

The morning after the election, Philadelphia was fresh off a six-day public transit strike. Now our students, who had demonstrated high levels of grit and resilience to get to school despite the lack of transportation, were faced with an even greater challenge: the election of Donald J. Trump as president.

There was a certain post-election gloom in the building. The students of Mastery Shoemaker—seventh- through 12th-graders, nearly all of them African-American—could be heard in our hallways expressing concerns about the messages that President-elect Trump used to win the election. They exchanged thoughts, glances, nods and hugs with their peers and staff alike.

Several post-election articles and videos were also circulating amongst staff, who were fielding a plethora of questions about the election. We are fortunate to have teachers who understand there are times to divert from the curriculum to address issues and concerns. Like other educators across our city, our staff gave students opportunities to write, speak and process the election and what it might mean for their community.

In my own conversations with our students, here are some of the thoughts I shared:

Study history.
Malcolm said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.”

It is not the first time that an openly bigoted, misogynist campaigned for or was elected to the presidency. It won’t be the last either. Resistance against active or “passive” bigotry is not on an election cycle. It is rooted in fighting injustice in whatever form.

Build Coalitions.
Use your frustrations as an impetus to establish and strengthen your coalitions with like-minded people; continue to support and partner with the marginalized.

Direct your actions according to the rainbow coalition concept that people such as Fred Hampton Jr. envisioned. Our belief of “lift as you climb” continues and is not to be abandoned regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. Alliances are formed during times of need. The best coalitions are forged when humanity depends on it.

Focus on Our Community.
Our ancestral lineage is one that celebrates and cherishes community regardless of the affront. You are descendants of social justice warriors who have always alarmed white supremacists, and we often had to look for forms of beauty within our worlds despite the affronts and oppression. Find the beauty in your day-to-day work and existence.

Be Twice as Good.
No matter who is in what office, you will need to be twice as good, and work twice as hard, to get half as far. You are accountable for your character, language and choices, and your pigment means you don’t have the White privilege that affords others to be crass and stay beloved. Character counts regardless of what you see from others.

Engage in Self-Care.
Identify the resources you draw from when you are in need. Successful people must make the time to replenish their reserves while fighting for equity and justice. It is not a spectator sport and can be draining. Tap into your network. Connect with yourself too.

Be Political.
Protests are great. Voting and ongoing, strategic, and relentless activism are even better. As important at it is to pay attention and be involved in national politics, pay even closer attention to the local scene. It is usually right outside your doorstep where you can help the most people directly.

Expect Prejudice, Never Accept Prejudice
No, you shouldn’t be surprised that blatantly bigoted, racist and xenophobic language resonated with so many Americans. And, yes, some women may be more frustrated by the standing, yet cracked, and, hopefully, soon to be shattered, glass ceiling than the bigoted and even misogynistic language and posture that the president-elect took throughout the campaign and his career. For some, including, I suspect, many of those who made a pilgrimage to Susan B. Anthony’s grave site, the fact that a Black man occupied the Oval Office meant that a woman must be elected. Anything short of that was a clear affront to the “feminism for some” that you may have witnessed.

Stay Vigilant.
Finally, don’t think for a second that you would have been able to rest on your laurels had Clinton won the presidency. That doesn’t work for our community. Know that some folks have to see a clear and present danger before they organize and plan. Before they act, they must feel they’re in imminent danger. Learn from these types of people so that you can avoid those self-hindering blind spots.

At the end of the day, my message to our predominantly Black students is the same as it has ever been, but fiercer: There is never really a time for hand wringing and soft singing. Educate yourself like never before. “Read absolutely everything you get your hands on.” Be organized and self-disciplined. Work with like-minded people to advance causes of justice and equity. And, no matter what you are facing, stand firm for justice and don’t blink. We are with you.

Sharif El-Mekki
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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