Black Lives Matter in Schools This Month and Every Damn Month

Feb 14, 2019 12:00:00 AM


On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, I had the honor of speaking at the Black Lives Matter in Schools Week of Action rally. The audience was mostly educators, with a few powerful students (several whom spoke).
As an educator who was born to two Black Panther Party (BPP) parents and had three cousins who were also in the BPP, I can tell you, unequivocally, that we cannot afford to assume that any American institution—including schools—naturally and without accountability holds Black students’ lives dearly. Our Week of Action highlights the necessary recommitted action to ensure that Black lives matter. Your presence uplifts the humanity of our Black students and represents a call to action for all who lead in our classrooms and schools, and those who lead in positions adjacent to our schools. Some ask why Black lives matter at all, let alone an entire week. I tell them, it’s not a week, it’s a mindset and lifestyle—a core belief and a rallying cry. Those of us who know better have never been inebriated with a false idea of a post-racial society in America. Those of us with clear mind and vision easily recognize that the points of Black Lives Matter (BLM) are similar to the 10 point programs of Black Student Union and the BPP. We know that the BLM core is similar to the Organization of Afro American Unity and SNCC. It’s similar to Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” and Sojourner’s “Ain’t I A Woman.” We can easily draw parallels between BLM and Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign. BLM is consistent with Martin’s demands to address poverty and Malcolm’s work around the denial of human rights to Black people. And, what are these demands that have some people so uncomfortable, in their feelings, cringing from this rallying cry?
  • Ending zero-tolerance policies that push kids out, instead of upending the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Mandate Black history and ethnic studies and anti-racist training for educators.
  • Hiring more Black teachers which is consistently proven to be one of the most important interventions for Black student outcomes. At one point Black teachers in Philadelphia made up 40 percent of the teaching force. Today, only about a quarter of Philadelphia's teachers are Black.
  • Providing funding for proactive counseling instead of punitive measures and police.
Mama Assata Shakur warned us about taking our oppression as a given. She said people will become accustomed to anything. The less we think about our students’ oppression, the more the tolerance for it will grow. We are at a place where too many people believe this is just the normal place of things, that white supremacy is the way of the universe. Well, BLM supporters, you are here, we are here, because we won’t be silent, we won’t be pacified, and we won’t stand still. Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter in Schools this week and every damn week. Some say they support this, but they don’t want to voice their support publicly. However, one of my favorite sayings is “Never Whisper Justice.” Your presence, your voices, your actions demand that you stand in solidarity with the 68,000 Black students of Philadelphia and the 8 million Black students in public schools around the country.

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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