I reminisce a lot about my childhood. I think about the trajectory that was established for me and my schoolmates by a group of Black families who decided that they were going to take ownership of their Black children’s potential and start a school.
These families had bold and audacious decisions to make and they chose to protect Black children’s intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical, and cultural well being. This community chose to protect and shape their children’s future by starting a school of their own.
As a student, this school, Nidhamu Sasa, played an enormous role in helping to share my worldview. It informed my educational perspective, my belief in Black parents’ sovereignty – their right to choose and craft the academic settings they believe best preserve and propel the sacred aspirations and goals they have for their children.
As the handbook read, Nidhamu Sasa was a school that existed to be:
…on the front line of the struggle with our children: meshing hard academics with strength of spirit and the desire to be on the human side of the world’s most pressing social questions. We have boldly decided that no one can do a better job of this than we can; and that fundamentally, this is our fight and responsibility.
I was recently able to interview Ilyasah Shabazz, one of the daughters of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X, at the amazing National Parents Union conference. The parents who attended reminded me of the Nidhamu Sasa parents and not just because my mother was there.
Ilyasah spoke of how important education was to her parents. She emphasized that a large piece of her parents’ legacy was their dedication to education.
When I think of Nidhamu Sasa, I think of Malcolm X’s demand that the New York superintendent turn over 30% of the public schools to the community.
I think of parents homeschooling and using every avenue possible to find safe passage, an overground railroad of sorts to ensure their children inherit an educational legacy – one that every single student, human beings with limitless potential, deserves. I think, every single Black child deserves a school that thinks about and acts on their mission like Nidhamu Sasa.
We have boldly decided that no one can do a better job of this than we can; and that fundamentally, this is our fight and responsibility.
Throughout my career, I would reflect on the dedication of my elementary school teachers and leaders and chase their vision because it embodied our community’s vision. I will be forever indebted to them because one day, my students, their grand-students, will be able to trace their academic lineage to those who taught me.
As my friend Amir Sulaiman often says, you will be ancestors one day. Act accordingly. Educators, we must reflect on this daily, during all of our lesson planning and execution, and act accordingly. Ensure you are planning and executing as if you have the community’s most precious resource in front of you. Because you do. Act accordingly.
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.