Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. John B. King Jr., recently delivered the keynote address to Howard University’s School of Education. His message deeply resonated with me. Establishing just systems—education, housing, economies, politics, law enforcement, etc.—will take everyone, not just the oppressed. Dismantling the impact of white supremacy is everyone’s job—everyone who loves to claim a stake in democracy. However, educators play a catalytic role in this work.
Dr. John King’s message to Howard University’s graduates is important, not just because of highlighting the problems, but recognizing that educators are a significant part of the solution. Not just because of who they are, but because of who they have direct access to on a daily basis.
“Today, a child’s ZIP code, the color of his skin, the language he speaks at home, and the income of his family all weigh too heavily in the determination of that child’s future.
But, as you know, far too many young people — especially those who are most vulnerable — do not have access to the opportunities that a great education makes possible.
Children of color and low-income students often have the least access to quality preschool, high academic expectations, and safe schools. They often are cut off from challenging coursework and outstanding teachers. They are suspended, expelled, and drop out of school at higher rates than their peers. And they are less likely to make it to postsecondary success, as all of you have.
So, today, as you graduate, I want to encourage you to use the education you received here at Howard to help us achieve this aim. And I will suggest three powerful ways to do it: teach for social justice, see and love the whole child, and lead with your legacy in mind.”
Read the rest of Dr. John B. King Jr.’s commencement speech here.
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.