When Black Kids Get A Chance, They Soar. That’s Why So Many Don’t Get Chances.

Hazim Hardeman is a Rhodes Scholar. In fact, he is Temple University’s first student to be bestowed this honor. The award’s namesake aside, this is quite impressive.

Like all Black, Brown, and/or poor parents, Hazim’s mother, Gwendolyn Hardeman, wanted her child to be safe, successful and educated. She couldn’t find it in her neighborhood school, so she did what thousands of Black, Brown, and/or poor families do—she lied about her address to ensure her son had a better education.

Instead of accepting where her zip code dictated where she sent her son, she made a choice to find a better option within the district. Many families use this same tactic to access districts in Philly’s surrounding counties. However, some would say that his mother should’ve been arrested for setting her son on the track that may have helped him to achieve such a feat. Parents often don’t see this as a choice of luxury, but, rather, a choice between life and death.

Susan Snyder captures Ms. Hardeman’s thinking in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

One day she went down the block to check out the neighborhood school, William Dick, and didn’t like what she saw: Students on the tables, and teachers unable to get them down, she said.

So Hazim’s mother did what many Philadelphia parents in poor neighborhoods do to give their children a shot: She went to look for a better one. She boarded a bus to Roxborough, a neighborhood where she had seen schools that looked better.

She spotted the school she liked most, Shawmont Elementary, then found a nearby apartment building and jotted down the address, she said. She would later falsely use it as her own so Hazim and his brother could attend.

There are plenty of kids like Hazim, all brilliant in different ways and forms. And, to be clear, my favorite part of Hazim’s story is that he doesn’t indict his community or his peers in his mother’s quest for a better school option.

“It’s not a testament to the ability of the students at these schools if they’re performing at a certain level,” he said, but rather reflective of the lack of resources and conditions they must learn under.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my community except the foot on its neck,” he said. “I don’t think my community needs a savior. I think they need resources.”

“Don’t be happy for me that I overcame these barriers,” he says. “Be mad as hell that they exist in the first place.”

Well said, Hazim. We wish you the best. May you continue to be a tremendous asset to our community.

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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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