Every New Year Black Families Await the Promise of Better Schools

Jan 2, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Almost every December 31, at 7:00 p.m., my family joins the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) to honor our ancestors who awaited in breathtaking suspense for Lincoln’s promise of an Emancipation Proclamation. This historic event that led enslaved Black people to wait with bated breath for the clock to strike midnight on December 31 was called Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve. In an article in the Philadelphia Tribune, our friend Michael Coard (if you’re not following him, you’re missing out) gives the history behind Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve:
When enslaved Blacks held their informal services on plantations and in cabins on December 31, 1862, they did so because they had heard rumors about Lincoln’s so-called Emancipation Proclamation, which had been publicized on September 22, 1862 but was to go into effect on January 1, 1863.
Each year, as I reflect on Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve and every subsequent day in between, I can’t help to think of every Black family who heard the rumor of better schools for their children and grandchildren since the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling. I think of everyone, who in today’s context, were promised better outcomes—whether by staying put in their neighborhood schools or by exercising school choice. I think of the generations of Black families and students who know their humanity is being disregarded by schools, districts, politicians, and even educators. For them, [pullquote position="right"]each night is Freedom’s Eve, awaiting a promise of equity and justice.[/pullquote] Every night when they tuck their children in, lay out their children’s clothes and make their lunches, these parents, guardians, and students are effectively in a perpetual Watch Night—waiting for the so-called promises of improved education, better outcomes, and educational justice. The road for educational justice and unmitigated freedom for the Black community is long and weary, but now, just as always, we must use 2019 to redouble our efforts to ensure that the options, choices, and outcomes that are expected and enjoyed by White students (and some privileged Black folks) are experienced by all. To this, I commit. I hope you do as well. The happiness of the new year is suspended until then. Right now, we fight. #PamojaTutashinda

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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