Just Like Emancipation, Quality Schools Are Being Delayed and Denied to Black Students

“Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

While many Americans are waiting with baited breath for July 4, today Black people around the country celebrate Juneteenth, June 19, commemorating the ending of enslavement and the beginning of our emancipation. Here, in Philadelphia, Gov. Wolf is set to declare the day a holiday, joining at least 40 other states that have already done so.

While I applaud Gov. Wolf on his efforts to establish the day as a state holiday, I do not consider it as a final destination because we know that America still has much to live up to, including but not limited to providing a quality education for all children, criminal justice reform and overall reparations for the trauma unleashed on the Black community for hundreds of years.

Schools have an integral role to play in teaching about Juneteenth, the real start to an elusive American Independence Day. The ideals of independence weren’t captured on July 4, 1776, as a significant number of people who were forced to contribute to American prosperity weren’t considered. In many instances, Black contributions are still not considered when there are so many educators, along with the current administration, who believe that America was greater in a time when more people were excluded.

I have written before about the fact that Black history is American history. For teachers, most of whom are White, who fail to learn and teach Black history, they are doing a disservice to their students and committing an affront to history as a subject.

For educators to ignore and/or downplay the massive and pervasive betrayals Black people have suffered and persevered through at the hands and policies of America’s people and institutions is to continue those same oppressions. To ignore, deliberately or unintentionally, the contributions of Black people is promoting White supremacy.

In the Vox article, “Why Celebrating Juneteenth Is More Important Now Than Ever”, P.R. Lockhart explains:

In many ways, Juneteenth represents how freedom and justice in the US has always been delayed for black people. The decades after the end of the war would see a wave of lynching, imprisonment, and Jim Crow laws take root.

Exclusion from the “American Dream” is part and parcel a part of the Black American experience. The promise of education, as mandated by state constitutions, for Black children is a Juneteenth of sorts. Quality schools have been promised by politicians as a part of the democratic systems of this country—for some, but clearly, not for all. But, just like freedom it has been delayed and, thus, denied for Black children in this country.

Malcolm X said:  

If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.

Teachers, and the rest of America, need to admit the knife is still in the backs of Black America. Only then can we start the healing process. Learning about Juneteenth can be a portal to understanding this centuries-old knife better.

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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