Even as a Student, Maye-gan Brown Has Something to Teach Us About the School-to-Activism Pipeline

There is no honor in the world like being a teacher. And in a school, every single person can play a teaching role. In fact, even our students can be their teachers’ teachers.

Maye-gan Brown has played that role in my life. When I initially met her as a child, she struck me as a serious, studious activist who would hold me and everyone else accountable. Now that she’s graduated and off at college, I still keep in touch, knowing that she is someone who will touch the world, demanding justice every step of the way. Maye-gan and many of her schoolmates are influencing the school-to-activism pipeline.

Tell us something about yourself.

I like to describe myself as a proud first-generation Jamaican American, West Philadelphia native, child of God, lover of all things Black, avid learner and a proud disruptor of the status quo.

What are you passionate about? How will you use this passion to lead and serve in your community?

My passions seemed to have found me rather than me finding them. I was never the kind of person to seek out opportunities in the realm of leadership, but I am grateful to those who saw the potential in me and forced me into leadership positions that demanded my constant growth and attention.

Now being a college junior with a better understanding of my place in the world, I’d say my passions can be summed up in the word “justice.” I pursue justice in all that I do whether it be the previous employment positions I have held, my academic study or the casual conversations I have with friends and family. I believe in facilitating and fighting for an inclusionary atmosphere that allows the most vulnerable in society the opportunity to live a fulfilled, healthy and prosperous life.

You attended a public school. What have you learned about educational inequity through your experiences?

I have learned that racist housing and education policies have stripped educational opportunities from poor Black and Brown students who, with the proper investment, are unstoppable and limitless. I have understood that a multitude of students who look like me are at a deficit as soon as they exit the womb and due to the inequalities in our country, are never allowed to reach their full capabilities.

Please share a meaningful, memorable experience or two from high school.

In high school I had the honor of speaking before Philadelphia City Council to advocate for school funding. In retrospect it seems almost absurd to have to advocate for that—but it was in that moment that I realized that real change was happening right in front of me.

I remember ending my speech with, “One day, if I happen to sit in your seat, I will remember the students like me who look to you to make the right decisions concerning my future.

That moment revealed to me the sacredness of these positions and the hundreds of thousands of lives that are affected by the decisions our politicians make. I knew then I wanted a career in politics—not for myself or any selfish gain but because I knew firsthand the plights that faced students like me.

What would you tell your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to be more confident in my gifts. Even as a high school student, I would shy away from certain opportunities or positions because I feared others would perceive me as overzealous and too eager.

What are some great things about your community that are overlooked?

The beauty in my community is the way neighborhoods are protective of their children. In Philadelphia, it is very rare that you live on a street where you do not know your neighbors or go to your local corner store and they don’t immediately know your name or your order. The familial environment makes it a great place to grow up.

What problem do you want to solve?

There are so many I want to solve! But I’d say the one of the most important is addressing the poverty rate in Philadelphia, which is one of the highest in the nation.

After graduation I plan on returning to Philadelphia to work in local politics as a strategist or eventual candidate. I hope to propose an increase in vocational education in schools to provide options to students who choose not to pursue college. I’d also like to create neighborhood forums for prospective business owners, instructing them on how to attain capital and navigate the financial aspects of entrepreneurship.

Who is a hero of yours and how have they impacted you and your life goals?

A hero of mine is the Ida B. Wells!

Whether she was serving as a founding member of the NAACP or risking her life by exposing the terroristic acts of lynchings in the Deep South, she never backed down nor hid in fear of consequence. She spoke the truth unapologetically with boldness and authority. In whatever field or position I find myself in, this is the kind of woman I aim to be.

This blog was originally published on Education Post.

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About the author

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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