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 is the principal of Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia and one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with acting U.S. Education Secretary John King and formerly Arne Duncan at the national level.