My Corner of the World
by Sharif El-Mekki | 08.15.17
Back in high school and in college, a career in teaching was the furthest thing from my mind. It’s not like I crossed it off from a list of considerations; it just never even dawned on me, despite the fact that my own mother was a teacher.
Would you believe that? Even with this connection, I failed to see education’s role in the pursuit of social justice. But thank goodness my mother planted that seed. I know now that her genuine love of learning and of teaching others rooted deep inside me – it just didn’t sprout until I got a little older.
Not only have I taught, but I’m now a principal. More than that, now that I’ve seen the light, I’m working to make sure other black men can find their way to teaching and that teaching welcomes them.
Coming up in education, I saw a lot of black men adjacent to classrooms, but that wasn’t enough.
All of us have a crucial role to play in making that happen in our schools. So, along with 16 other black men, I launched The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice to create opportunities for black men to lead classrooms.
Our initial goal was hardly to create a formal organization. We came together over a monthly dinner at a black-owned restaurant in west Philly to problem-solve and celebrate wins, collaborate and support each other. We met to ensure our students’ successes and to facilitate our own learning.
A colleague, a white principal, reached out once to ask if the quarterly convenings The Fellowship sponsored would be a space where he could participate. I told him he was welcome as long as supporting black male educators was important to him. He still asked if it was OK to come.
He acknowledged that even though a couple of black men were teaching in his school, their voices may be drowned out, and he had assumed their voices and ideas were the same as the teachers who represented the majority of his teaching force. He committed to seeking out black male perspectives and decided to begin by attending one of our convenings.
The Fellowship is an inclusive space. We’re welcoming to anyone concerned about the inequity that our communities had been subjected to for generations, and anyone who shares our belief that the classroom can be a force for change.
To facilitate this work, collectively, we organize around three main pillars:
- Professional Development: Addressing the unique needs of black male educators collected through experience, research and feedback from our Black Male Educator Convenings (BMEC).
- Advocacy and Activism: Engaging policymakers along with school and district leaders to address roadblocks that stymie attempts to diversify the profession.
- Influencing Pathways: Engaging high school and college students, career changers, etc. to consider education as the most important lever to create revolutionary and sustainable change.
As a practitioner, my experience on the path leading up to The Fellowship – and my work still ahead – reminds me of a famous Angela Davis quote: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” I am grateful that this quote resonated with the founding members of The Fellowship. My colleagues and I did not wait until someone told us to do something. In the truest form of self-determination, we black male educators saw that society was being shortchanged, that our students were lacking the diversity they deserved, and we chose to do something about it. I’d love for you to join us in this work.