One of many Brittany Packnett’s tweets has stuck with me and brought up all types of memories of my childhood.
She reminded me that the battle for educational justice, and all justice for that matter, is ongoing. She compared it to what Dr. King described as the moral arc of justice. She said we need to bend it. But, we have to constantly show up in order to do so. Brittany also captured what many like-minded educators firmly believe: This work for educational justice is a lifestyle.
For me, thanks to my family and teachers, I started in this work a long time ago. I was reminded of this when I received an email from a family friend. She sent me a note I’d sent her when I was 7 years old.
Dear Sister Shakurah,
There is going to be a march at the White House on Saturday. March 18, 1978. Lots of people will be there. They are going to march so that the president would let the rest of the Wilmington 10 out of jail. I think we should go because the Wilmington 10 are innocent and they helped other people when they needed help. And, so, I think if I go, I could learn something.
I did learn something. I learned something from that protest and I learned something from the countless protests and forms of resistance that I have been involved in. My parents and teachers knew the baton of the freedom fighters needed to be securely placed in the hands of the youth for the next leg. But, the hands had to be able to grasp the baton securely, undazed, and unfazed.
Today, I still march in protest, but my biggest form of resistance is educating the Black students who our country has oft failed to educate. There are schools in our communities that are committed to empowering those who resist disempowerment. We must unite with our families, who are stoic and uncompromising, in their resistance and demands for educational justice.
Our school (William Shoemaker) opened as a charter in 2008. Our first graduating class (2011) understood the contrasts between schools that worked for students, as did I. I attended Shoemaker for summer school in 1987. The school had not changed much since then, so it became a turnaround charter school.
The Class of 2011 left their school, the second most violent school in Philly, (and most likely the state), in June after their eighth grade year, hearing promises that things would be different as a turnaround charter school. They were initially very skeptical because adults had lied to them before about what they should expect and what they deserved. They returned in August to see that there are many adults out here who still believe in delivering on the promises made to our youth.
There’s a saying that you don’t need to yell that a glass is dirty. Often, all you have to do is to place a sparkling clean glass next to it. That is how it is with schools that are working to do right by kids and those who are working hard to marginalize them. Schools that work are clean glasses in clear contrast to schools that don’t work for their students. Establishing schools that work for students, Black students in particular, is nothing short of justice.
Fighting for educational justice is a lifestyle. Are you all in?
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.