9 Steps We Can Take Towards Education Justice in 2019
Sharif El-Mekki
January 4, 2019

Last year, Philly’s 7th ward blog reached the 300 milestone for published blogs. Time flies, but we know that progress often doesn’t. There were many articles that resonated with our readers. Below I highlighted the top ten. Enjoy a read or a re-read.

Happy New Year, one dedicated to educational justice.

1. The Lack of Representation. A colleague, and former student of mine, Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-El provided two articles reviewing a plethora of books for Black boys and girls. We not only need more teachers of color leading our classrooms, but educators and parents should also ensure that their children and students have diverse representation in their reading materials. The belief that people of color haven’t contributed mightily to society is perpetuated by the media, but also by us when we choose not to diversify our reading materials.

All educators, librarians, and parents, including white ones, should do equity walks as they browse their home, classroom, and school libraries.

But, it’s not just our children’s reading material that needs to be addressed.

Diversity Matters a Lot in Our Classrooms and Schools. Parents and educators who were in tune with the needs of children knew this well. Recently, researchers are providing additional evidence for the dire need for more Black and Brown teachers. With American schools loving school-based “interventions”, it is a wonder why the diversification of teachers isn’t prioritized even more. And, yet, we don’t just want more hues, we need diverse, highly conscious, and deeply effective educators.

Our organization, The Fellowship – Black Male Educators for Social Justice is one of the groups grappling with this issue. We want to provide the three Ps: Robust and relevant professional development, intensive and aligned support for the shaky teacher pipeline, and to advocate for effective local and state policies to increase the number of Black male educators.

2. Raising Black and Brown kids to have a positive racial identity in a society that has always devalued Black and Brown skin is not easy and the onslaught of negative imagery and messaging must be met head-on, consistently, strategically, in words and action. In our language and in our print materials.

As Marley Dias said, she’s sick of reading about white boys and their dogs. So are the white boys.

3. Implicit Racial Biases represent a root cause for many of the ills our students face. There are a ton of obstacles in the way of Black boys receiving a quality education. They have been well researched and documented: suspension rates, push out (dropout) rates, poor teaching, less experienced teachers, lack of access to quality Pre-K-12 schools, etc.

But, Robin Muldor, and I believe that implicit biases are a root factor. To solve problems, it is often said we must ask why at least seven times to get to the root of the issue. From there, we can begin to solve it. When you view the challenges facing Black boys from this angle, how can the implicit biases of their white teachers not be a factor to be addressed.

4. Hiring Poorly for the Most Important Job in the Universe. I firmly believe you can’t fire your way to creating a great school, but you can hire and coach your way there. But, what if principals, recruiters, and leadership teams aren’t asking the right questions from the start? It is much easier to coach someone to be a strong teacher if they have the right mindset about other people’s kids – particularly the Black ones.

5. Strong Principals Are Important, But They Tend Not to Stay. Leading a school is hard. Very hard. But doing it well can be a tremendous lever in creating educational equity and justice. But, principals should always think about teams, culture, and systems to truly drive change. Principals and their supervisors should also think about the professional development and support that principals need in order to make the impact we all envision for our students. David November reminds us of the ongoing principal churn that schools experience:

Research suggests that it takes five to seven years for a principal to have full impact on a school, but most principals burn out and leave in four years or less.

6. Communities Are Integral in the Healing Process. No matter the trauma, it is worse if the traumatized don’t have a community to help them through the challenge. In 2018, we lost an invaluable member of our community.

Mr. Korpi loved his students, he was also a content expert and a leader. When he suddenly died, his family and our school community came together to start the healing process in order to chart a path forward.

7. Educators Are Parents’ Partners, Not Their Accountability Officers. I cringe every time I hear a teacher or a principal say that they need to hold parents accountable. What I hope they mean is that they deeply desire a partnership with the families of those they serve. But I’m not naive enough to think that educators never resort to judgment and shaming as opposed to pursuing the parental partnerships they desperately seek.

Teachers and principals should not seek to hold families accountable. We should hold ourselves accountable for being the best, most welcoming partners we can be.

8. Don’t Just Pay Attention to the Violence When It Impacts White Students. Our student activists, members of Raised Woke, believe that there are heightened sensitivities to white children experiencing violence that students of color are not afforded. Student activism is nothing new and successful social justice movements often used broad coalitions that spanned race and class. Students remarked that the support that the heroic Parkland students received was well deserved and noticed that the support and attention for students’ causes around safety should be consistent, regardless of where the students are from.

The school-to-activism pipeline is as crucial today as it has always been.

9. Are You Supportive of Your Muslim Students? Speaking of diversity, there are a growing number of Muslim students in our schools. An effective educator is always resisting stereotypes and pushing back against misconceptions. There are plenty of ways to support Muslim students, recognizing the Islamic holiday of Ramadhan is just one of them.

One of the principles of the Nguzo Saba is UJIMA – Collective Work and Responsibility. It is defined as  Building and maintaining our community together and to making our brothers’ and sisters’ problems, our problems, and solving them together.

There is no place better than our schools to apply Ujima. In 2019, let’s dedicate ourselves to this principle and make Black and Brown children’s problems, our problems, and let’s solve them. Together.

Pamoja Tutashinda.


This post was written by Sharif El-Mekki and originally ran on his Philly’s 7th Ward blog.

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