You aren’t always able to choose family, but even if I were able, I would have still chosen most of my cousins. My little cousin, Nina Wallace, represents a legacy of resistance, brilliance and activism. Her parents, like my parents and our grandparents, worked hard to exercise their rights as parents to choose the types of schools we attended to ensure the best fit. But, they also chose the communities they felt would support us, nurture us, and help raise us.
Because of these experiences, Nina, like many of my cousins, embodies the lead-and-serve-in-your-community mantra and lifestyle. An activist and an intellectual, I pray that Nina continues to make her way. She represents the help that our community seeks, and the leadership our community has invested in. #BlackDegreesMatter #SchoolToActivismPipeline
Tell us something about yourself.
I am a sophomore biology and community health major and Arabic minor at Howard University. I am originally from West Philadelphia but spent a majority of my K-12 education at an Islamic school and public early college high school in North Carolina.
What are you passionate about? How will you use this passion to lead and serve in your community?
I want to either get an MD/MPH or an MD/PhD in public health or epidemiology. Ultimately, I want to use my degree to conduct health disparities research and investigate minority health and health inequity. Through this investigation, I would love to help nationwide initiatives that work towards reducing these disparities and improving the overall health of the communities that I come from.
Who is a hero of yours and how have they impacted you and your life goals?
I don’t necessarily have a hero because I try not to idolize anybody to prevent disappointment from the inevitability of human fallacies. However, I look up to any women of color in STEM fields since there is such a lack of representation in those fields. They impact my life by providing me images to look up to because I stand by the phrase that children can’t become what they don’t see.
Please describe your school. What have you learned about educational inequity through your experiences?
I attended private Islamic school until high school and the public high school I attended was an early college. Therefore, I was provided with much more resources and opportunities than I would have received at a traditional public school. Also, the district my school was in is within one of the richest counties of the state so the schools in my zip code generally have more resources than your typical inner-city public school.
What would you tell your younger self?
To have more confidence in my intelligence and to know that intelligence does not always equal arrogance.
What are some great things about your community that are overlooked? Why do you think these positives are ignored or denied?
Howard University, being called “the Mecca,” is a culmination of and a diverse source of every kind of Blackness. You learn on this campus there is no one way to be Black no matter how America tries to stereotype Black people. You learn true history and how vital Black people have been to contributing to our and America’s history. That type of education you simply will not get at a predominately White institution.
Please share your most meaningful, memorable experiences from high school or college.
My most memorable experience was my first time visiting my college campus. Living in a predominantly White community and stepping foot onto an HBCU campus was almost like entering a movie. I felt like I was in an episode of “A Different World”—never in my life have I been surrounded by a community that wants nothing but for you to succeed.
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.