A couple of years ago, Noor, a young high school student who was interning at a local radio station, reached out to me for an interview. She was researching topics that she wanted to delve into and became intrigued about the dearth of Black male educators in Philadelphia and nationally. I was struck by her research, passion, preparation and poise. I had known Noor’s family for many years, but had never had a real conversation with her.
Today, when people speak of the importance of people having a global perspective, Noor has often come to mind as a shining example of what is possible for our youth. As a Muslim with Black and Eritrean lineage, Noor has the perspective, experience and intersectionality that grounds and informs her vision and work. She is and will continue to serve as a valiant advocate and for justice—both locally, and globally.
Below is a conversation I had with Noor about her passions and goals.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am currently a junior in high school and an aspiring journalist. I love speaking to people and hearing the many stories that have made up their lives. I also enjoy traveling and consider myself a student of the world. [pullquote position="right"]I see a common experience between myself and others of different cultures and backgrounds.[/pullquote]
What are you passionate about? How will you use this passion to lead and serve in your community?
I am passionate about giving people exposure to all the amazing experiences the world has to offer. I am aware of the fact that many people haven’t had the opportunity to explore outside their own communities. Some have literally never ventured beyond what they're used to, others don’t have a clue about the different experiences and opportunities that lie right outside their communities. They are unaware of the resources and privileges that give other communities an edge. I’d like to even out the playing field for members of my community. This will take two major steps, one dealing with mindset and exposure, another dealing with money. I think all ideas are better prepared to thrive if there is money behind them. I believe that nothing moves when money stands still.
My community lacks wealth that has been built up by many generations. I hope to somehow build equity in my community.
Who is a hero of yours and how have they impacted you and your life goals?
One of my many heroes is Dr. Suad. She has served as a mentor and role model for both my mother and I. Dr. Suad is a community leader that has exposed me to amazing books, African-American history, plays and the importance of giving back to one's community.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to pay attention in math class, because it just gets harder. Use your time wisely because what’s lost can never be compensated. In the future you will have moments where you will feel lonely, but that’s okay because some journeys are meant to be taken alone.
What are some great things about your community that are overlooked? Why do you think these positives are ignored or denied?
[pullquote position="right"]My community is very supportive and gives me all the tools necessary for success.[/pullquote] They keep me grounded and motivated at the same time. I am blessed with so many role models within my community that inspire me to be the best version of myself. With my community by my side, the sky isn’t the limit. I know I can go beyond that with their support.
Please share a meaningful, memorable experience or two from high school.
One of the most meaningful experiences I have had was seeing Barack Obama at a White House event during his last year in office. Going to the White House in itself was an amazing opportunity, but to see the first Black president of the United States held a different level of excitement. When I saw President Barack Obama come out to speak I was in tears. Not because he was our president, or a perfect individual, but because he, a Black man, became the leader of the free world.
In that moment I thought of the history and struggles of African Americans. I thought of people being lynched and tortured. I thought of my great grandmother who was a sharecropper from mobile Alabama and my grandmother who was born in a small village in Eritrea. I thought of how far they have come and how much people have fought to get to this point. I know there is still lots more work to be done, because we can and we must go even further. [pullquote]We owe it to each other to do more and be more for the sake of progress and prosperity for all who call America home.[/pullquote]
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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