“You all should be super proud! Your kids are out here doing amazing things,” Maye-gan. Read more about what this alumna is up to these days and what drives her decision making.
In high school I was involved in everything: president of the student government association, vice president of the National Honor Society, assistant director of the school musical, student editor-in-chief of the yearbook club, and student ambassador. Even with all of these leadership positions, none of them could have prepared me for the culture shock of college.
My first year was an adjustment as I sought to find a community or a friend that could support me in navigating the reality of being among only a few Black faces in a White space. However, I always reminded myself that I came here to not only gain academic knowledge but to learn more about myself. I cannot consider myself a true leader if I don’t have an understanding of who I am and what it is I stand for, as well as who I am standing up for.
My leadership at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus propelled my interest in activism as well as Black social mobility. Growing up, we are taught the logistics of getting a job and furthering our education yet we lack the knowledge of self, and Shoemaker Campus supplied that for me. Through knowledge of self, I now understand the importance of community building and the power that lies in investing, appreciating, and loving one’s own community and people.
I have a responsibility to bring my education back to my community and leave it better than I found it and uplift someone else as was done for me. Attending college and completing is not just a personal achievement but one that I will take back to my community to influence, build, create and inspire.
I chose to study English, Africana Studies, and political science based on the needs I saw in my community of west Philadelphia. English because it is time for Black people to be in charge of and telling our own stories unscathed, pure and true.
Political science because systemically the disenfranchisement of our people has ousted us from the political realm and it is long past due for us to demand our seat at the table and begin advancing our people. Lastly, Africana studies because too often we are bombarded with academic content rather than being taught self love and pride that comes from the beauty of our melanated skin that our history is one of glory and triumph; that mindset is one that becomes the foundation of self-worth.
In my community it was neither the ability nor the capability that we lacked but rather it was limited access to information and exposure to better opportunities. After college, I hope to earn a Ph.D in sociology to bring back to my community to educate others and spread knowledge that we can use to create wealth, create businesses and jobs, increase college retention rates, and ultimately start doing for ourselves what we too long depended on others to do for us.
It is about unlocking and awakening the power we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into believing no longer existed.
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.