Why Black Males Need to Answer the Call and Teach

Mar 9, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Sharif El-Mekki

Had you asked me 25 years ago—and some people did—if I'd become an educator, I would have said, “No way! Why would I work in a school?” I knew I wanted to work in some realm of social justice and, at the time, I thought that there were much better, faster and easier ways to make an impact, to tilt the scales of justice back in favor of our youth. At various times, throughout college and immediately after graduating, I kept thinking, how can I make a difference? How can I serve my community best? What is the revolutionary thing to do? When I reflect on what led me to make the ultimate decision to become a “Nation Builder” (a teacher), I know that my experience as a student, unbeknownst to me at the time, was one of the main reasons. My teachers raised Freedom Fighters and determined leaders. We used a pan-African, Freedom School model that raised our consciousness, politicized us and educated us. They armed us not only with academic knowledge, but also instilled a strong and deep-rooted understanding that we were responsible for our communities. If more men realized the power of leading a classroom—how it is the most important lever in this fight for social justice and equity, and both challenges and offers uniquely amazing rewards—more highly qualified and gifted Black male educators would sign up to do this nation building. Many who could be Freedom Fighters are searching for how to make an impact, and most are encouraged not to lead in classrooms and schools. This must change. It is up to all of us to pose the questions: If you want to have the largest, most sustained impact on society, why not teach? You view yourself as radical? Anti-establishment? Pro-Black? Revolutionary? Well, there has never been a more radical stance than educating the oppressed in this country. Teaching Black boys and girls to read and problem-solve has always been viewed as subversive. Be subversive. Join us.

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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