Every Single New Year Black Families Await the Promise of Better Schools

Almost every December 31, at 7:00 p.m., my family joins the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) to honor our ancestors who awaited in breathtaking suspense for Lincoln’s promise of an Emancipation Proclamation.

This historic event that led enslaved Black people to wait with baited breath for the clock to strike midnight on December 31 was called Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve.

In an article in the Philadelphia Tribune, our friend Michael Coard (if you’re not following him, you’re missing out) gives the history behind Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve:

When enslaved Blacks held their informal services on plantations and in cabins on December 31, 1862, they did so because they had heard rumors about Lincoln’s so-called Emancipation Proclamation, which had been publicized on September 22, 1862 but was to go into effect on January 1, 1863.

Each year, as I reflect on Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve and every subsequent day in between, I can’t help to think of every Black family who heard the rumor of better schools for their children and grandchildren since the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling. I think of everyone, who in today’s context, were promised better outcomes—whether by staying put in their neighborhood schools or by exercising school choice. I think of the generations of Black families and students who know their humanity is being disregarded by schools, districts, politicians, and even educators.

For them, each night is Freedom’s Eve, awaiting a promise of equity and justice. Every night when they tuck their children in, lay out their children’s clothes and make their lunches, these parents, guardians, and students are effectively in a perpetual Watch Night—waiting for the so-called promises of improved education, better outcomes, and educational justice.

The road for educational justice and unmitigated freedom for the Black community is long and weary, but now, just as always, we must use 2019 to redouble our efforts to ensure that the options, choices, and outcomes that are expected and enjoyed by White students (and some privileged Black folks) are experienced by all.

To this, I commit. I hope you do as well. The happiness of the new year is suspended until then. Right now, we fight.


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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