Post-Juneteenth, Can We Secure Liberation

Realizing our Dreams of Education Liberation and Juneteenth

I had a dream the other night, that just like General Gordon Granger who marched into Galveston, Texas in 1865 to announce that the Emancipation Proclamation had made our people semi-free, that we had a transformational figure of our own, in our own time, similarly march into our collective communities and announce that education liberation had arrived. Finally.

I dreamt that this real life T’Challa that we had all been waiting on announced that all children would receive the education that met their unique needs, the education that prepares them to thrive, an education that empowers them and instills a positive racial identity, a belief in self.  I had that dream–and then I woke up.  

2023’s Juneteenth, like the others, feels like too many of our schools, too many of our families are still waiting for a Granger or a T’Challa-like figure to march in with federal troops and say, “Grandma, auntie, momma, pop, we’re here. Your little ones will be safe and provided for.”

But even if that dream scenario did play out, we need to look into the cold reality that just like with the real Juneteenth were enduring and complete liberation still hasn’t been fully realized, educational justice won’t be fully realized unless we collectively commit to a full throttle fight for full justice, to advocate and organize for the liberatory education to which all children are entitled. 

We need a Juneteenth for Educational Equity, but we need more than that. 

For as Dr. Howard Fuller often says, with the ending of enslavement as we knew it, we were liberated but not quite free.  Real freedom, real emancipation in education will require more than sweet dreams of a hero with the promise of hope.  

We can and must, in so many ways, be our own liberators.  It starts with recruiting and training more Black teachers. As our students have said so powerfully: #WeNeedBlackTeachers. While we are engineering the rebuilding of a Black teacher pipeline, we also must ensure that everyone who teaches has healthy mindsets about their students and the communities they come from. #MindsetsMatterMost when we are thinking about retention and recruitment of Black teachers.

The impact of having more Black teachers in more classrooms is powerful. When Black students have at least one Black teacher by 3rd grade, they’re 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. With two Black teachers, they are 32 percent more likely to go to college.  Having just one Black teacher makes Black boys 39% less likely to drop out of school and almost 30% more likely to go to college.  

That data is hard to argue with, but for some reason, for too many schools and districts, it’s data that is seemingly easy to ignore.  

So on the days after Juneteenth, let’s remember and celebrate but also recognize that while we are still a distance from real liberation, at least when it comes to liberatory education, we have a good idea of what we can do about it.

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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