It’s Time to Get Out of That Sunken Place and Stop Driving Ms. Randi

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.

Many of my conscious Black friends shared their reflections about seeing the movie depicting Black folks in a “sunken place.”

Well, if Get Out is anything like the slow-moving train wreck that keeps playing as I watch leaders in the Black community lose their way time and again, then I think I’ve already seen it.

In fact, this latest version of the movie reminds me more of a Morgan Freeman classic—with the long line of shuckers and jivers falling head over heels for a chance to drive around union boss Randi Weingarten.

So-called leaders continue to pander to Randi despite her historic hostility to unmitigated success for all Black children.

Her opposition to Black students is well known. She represents adults, mostly white women. She continues to unabashedly ensure that “when there is an opportunity to shift the balance of power that rests between a membership of mostly white women and a public school system that is mostly students of color, Randi will fight tooth and nail on behalf of the adults.”

Despite Randi’s compromised vision of educational justice for Black kids, Reverend Al Sharpton and leaders in the NAACP continue to make the rights and needs of Black children subservient to Randi’s whims and desires.

At one of the NAACP’s “hearings” on charter schools in Florida, an NAACP leader cajoled the audience into standing up and giving Randi a warm ovation, and shortly afterwards activist Rashad Turner was forcibly escorted out of the room for demanding that Black Lives Matter. [Insert facepalm here.]

When I shared this story with my students, one of them depicted it in this drawing.

In other places Randi was warmly welcomed as “Sister Randi”—a confounding term of endearment from those who clearly think her generous donations to their organizations are somehow synonymous with a commitment to educational justice for Black children.

Gwen Samuel, a Black parent, captured the moment when she attended a Congressional Black Caucus meeting and was wholly underwhelmed with their lack of student-centeredness.

Here’s the real kicker: at a black policy event, in a room full of educated black people, the moderator introduced Randi saying, “She’s our sistah!”

Wait, what? Whose ‘sistah’?

People clapped and cheered. I was insulted, especially when she jumped into an awkward theatrical sermon like a black pastor on Sunday morning. She even waved her hands all around and seduced the audience with her hype—she worked us damn well!

Did everyone in that room forget this woman and the organization she leads have a clear track record of blocking policies that give black families like mine equitable access to more educational choices? Does that matter to this group? …the sad answer is probably no.

It’s disheartening, but many of our black “educators” that lived through the civil rights era and its injustices have many of the same beliefs about black kids as their white comrades in the union. It was crystal clear to me at that moment, as long as Randi fights for their job security in the schools they would never choose for their kids, she’s golden – she really is their sistah!

But, some Black leaders take a stand against the chauffeured Randi. A couple of years ago, when Randi herself erroneously tried to cozy up to Dr. Howard Fuller and call herself a fellow revolutionary, Dr. Fuller stopped her in her tracks. No, Randi, you’re far from it, despite the fact you borrow revolutionary rhetoric.

Recently, at the 2017 NAACP Convention, NAACP members swayed, swooned, and sang a fantastic song of resistance.

We shall not we shall not be moved
We shall not we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water side
We shall not be moved
On the road to freedom
We shall not be moved
On the road to freedom
We shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water side
We shall not be moved

A few leaders gave resounding speeches consistent with the theme of being steadfast and immovable. Unfortunately, their actions have been anything but.

I’ll eventually watch the cinematic version of “Get Out,” but in the meantime, I’ll continue to be nauseated by this current movie mashup—watching Black folks gleefully enjoying being in their sunken places, right in the driver’s seat of Randi’s car.

What do you think?

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