My Fifth Grade Political Science Teacher

There are few things as searing as losing a loved one. When that person is one of your community’s most impactful teachers, it hurts. Baba Juhudi was that person for us. His memorial was an opportunity to reflect and celebrate his life, his impact, and his mission.

Here is what I shared with our community at Baba Juhudi’s memorial.

Baba Juhudi was one of our elders in our beloved Nidhamu Sasa community. He was a fixture for us growing up in an elementary school that continued the tradition of fiercely protecting Black children’s intellect, pride, and history with loving urgency, high expectations, and exerted youth leadership. And he remained a fixture in our lives well beyond our elementary school experiences.

Baba Juhudi was one of our teachers. A powerful Black male educator – one of the many amazing educators we had at Nidhamu Sasa. I remember him as one of our History, American Government, and Political Science teachers. One of the many favorite things about Nidhamu Sasa was that our history classes weren’t called Black History class, they were simply and matter-of-factly, History. Classes that for Black children were simultaneously centering, grounding, and elevating.

Once in history class, Baba Juhudi thought I was admiring my muscles. He was really upset. He later said those won’t matter if you don’t have it “up here” too, pointing to his brain.

As a 5th grader, I thought Baba Juhudi was too stern and too stingy with his praise. At times, I thought we would have to lead a revolution before we earned that coveted acknowledgment. And let me tell you what the acknowledgment we were so fervently seeking from him. Often it was an approving look over his glasses and a nod.

And, it meant everything.

When we got those, as fleeting as they were, would fuel us until we earned the next one. We knew he was preparing us for something – something bold.

Baba Juhudi was in many ways, a keeper of our culture. When as adults our memories faded or if our recollections weren’t as whole because we experienced them as Watoto or children, we only had to reach out to Baba Juhudi. If it was a song, an event, an artifact, he’d know and he relished in setting you and the record straight.

You see Baba Juhudi was also one of the accountability elders. I knew that as a child and I knew that as an adult. He once said people will talk you to death, but there are less people actually doing something about it. He taught us that we were responsible, even as children, for our community – something to this day, we don’t take lightly.

More than once, he’d respond to one of my many Facebook posts where I was complaining about some injustice or wistfully remembering the colossal impact Nidhamu Sasa had on so many people, their families, and in the community. And he’d ask a simple question, “Sharif, what’re you going to do about it, and when?”

In this time of twitter activism and internet wokeness, Baba Juhudi, was a relic, a griot, a throwback version of a maintainer of our culture – a cultural North Star.

Baba Juhudi represented seriousness to me. A serious man, with a serious mission, protecting the very serious aspect of Black Liberation.

As his students loved him, we have vowed to remember his salient questions, “What are you going to do about it and when? And, how seriously will you take this responsibility?

You have joined our ancestors. May your legacy continue. And may we, your ever grateful students, have a fraction of the impact you had in this world.

Ashe.

What do you think?

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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