The Full Series: Black History Today 2018, by Marcus Harden

The Full Series: Black History Today 2018, by Marcus Harden

I want to thank all who allowed me to honor and showcase them for Black History Month. The daily posts started as just a personal letter to people whom I believe to be truly amazing. We often wait too long to tell people what we think of them and their effects on us and our lives.

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Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

The greatest investment we can make in society is in each other. When we choose to invest in the best in ourselves and each other, that is when true magic begins to happen.

We’re all just shallow reflections of the light and the lives that have shined into ours. When I think about a great light that has invested in me and so many others on this “Black Panther” week, I think of one the strongest heroes I know: Rickie Malone.

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Black History Today: Three men living their values with quiet integrity

Black History Today: Three men living their values with quiet integrity

The narrative rarely connects the words Love and Black Men, together. Love in the true agape and philo sense has been the cornerstone of the Black community. It is shown through time, it’s is shown through living your values. It is shown through example.

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Black History Today: Three brilliant, bold, beautiful women unapologetically rooted in Blackness

Black History Today: Three brilliant, bold, beautiful women unapologetically rooted in Blackness

Recent pop culture has placed Black Women at the forefront of the conversation, showcasing their abilities to be beautiful, bold, brilliant, unapologetically rooted in blackness — and of course to be what they’ve always been: Heroes.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in the Pacific Northwest, there are three women who are the real-life embodiment of the Dora Milaje or the adored ones.

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Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Many people speak of narrative change but are often afraid to be in the trenches. It takes an ecosystem to create change, yet often times those who are the champions for and by the people get overlooked, their revolutionary presence lost in photo ops and small victories.

Yet it was once said that you can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution. One man that embodies the revolutionary and the revolution is Jerrell G. Davis.

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Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Rarely in life do you meet people whom you instantly know are one-of-a-kind, authentic and unique in their presentation, passion, purpose, performance and personhood.

Yet when you meet these people, whether you know it or not, their energy completely transforms your life. One of those people is Letta S. Mason.

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Black History Today: Chris Chatmon, using his gift in service of the Kings and Queens

Black History Today: Chris Chatmon, using his gift in service of the Kings and Queens

One of the greatest gifts, if not the greatest, is walking alongside someone else and encouraging them as they uncover their own gift. Then finding another and another to walk beside, giving the gift of being a gift, in service to others.

To do this with people is work, but very doable. To do this and begin to create systemic and institutional change, that is a gift in and within itself. When I think about people who hold that gift, brotha Chris Chatmon comes to mind.

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Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

From the streets of Seattle that many don’t even know exist, to finding himself at Washington State University (the one mistake we can’t forgive him for 😂), to becoming a teacher on the rise back home in the neighborhoods he walked, realizing that there was more and a call to his life.

Keith B. Wheeler now lives in the hope that he espouses, traveling the country and giving to others the gift that has been given to him, never stopping short of acknowledging his own flaws and blemishes, while making sure to point out that it's those things that make us unique.

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Black History Today: Princess Shareef, shaping lives with grace and humility

Black History Today: Princess Shareef, shaping lives with grace and humility

Malcolm X once said, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” That quote always resonated with me as I know so many STRONG, POWERFUL, BEAUTIFUL Black women.

I’ve been blessed to have my formative adult years, profesionally specifically to be led by Black women. My first in education is a national and Seattle treasure, Princess (should be Queen) Princess Shareef.

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Nine Things Every Educator Needs to Know When Teaching Black Students

By Sharif El-Mekki

Most of my educational experiences as a child were in an all-Black spaces and all of my experiences as an educator have been in schools that serve Black communities. And, although I can’t say I am an expert on everything about educating Black children (despite people’s misconceptions, we are not a monolithic people), there are some experiences that I have had that speak to what Black students need from the educators who profess to serve them.

It goes without saying that the educational experience should support the development of literacy, numeracy, communication, problem-solving, and personal development skills. Students also need to be equipped with the “non-academic” skills necessary to navigate the real-world. To do that, our children and communities need a certain type of educator.

To ensure Black students are equipped with the knowledge to navigate real-world situations, they need educators who are deeply reflective, express empathy, are critically conscious, and can guide problem-solving.

These nine suggestions aren’t just from my experiences, but also from the countless hours of communication with Black families about the aspirations they have for their children and communities. These suggestions are not just for school-based educators. Anyone who touches the education of Black children, either directly or indirectly, should be immersed in efforts towards equity.

  1. The Right Mindset: If you don’t believe Black children can learn at the same rate as any other child, then you don’t belong in front of them. Honestly, you don’t belong in a classroom full of White children either, because you’ll covertly (and even overtly) reinforce white supremacist philosophy. The right mindset would be one of growth and engages ongoing professional development. Research shows that Black children are particularly impacted by their teachers’ opinion about them. That can be both powerful and dangerous.
  2. Supporting Students in Developing a Positive Racial Identity: Students are bombarded with messages that they are worthless, achieve less, and that only the exceptional Black person can perform at the highest levels. Unfortunately, because of this constant attack on the Black psyche, some students have internalized this. Educators have a crucial role in perpetuating this negative self-image, or being there to ameliorate it. Ensuring that materials share the contributions of Black people on society, both historically and present-day can go a long way. Also, it is crucial that our Black youth see and participate in educators celebrating students’ efforts and achievements beyond athletics and entertainment.
  3. High Expectations, High Support, Much Love: Too often there is a lack of balance. Some will enact authoritarian demeanor and rules, in the essence of stripping students of their dignity in the name of instilling order. Others tolerate chaos and excuses in the name of love. The answer is in the middle. It isn’t about no excuses or “make all the excuses in the world” schools. It is about helping students develop self-control and self-discipline necessary to be productive leaders in their communities. Hilary Beard describes parenting of Black children as being in quadrants. She describes the style that Black boys respond to the best as “strict authoritarian.” That means holding high expectations and lots of love.
  4. Establishing Windows and Mirrors: Too often, White children’s positive sense of self is reinforced through media, and in life. White students see an overwhelming number of people in power and, consciously or unconsciously, begin to assume that it is their rightful place in life. Black children see this, too. Often, even when a student has a Black teacher, other positions of power may be overwhelmingly White, so students see that. Helping all students see themselves as contributors to society and leaders within it is vital.
  5. Serving Holistically: Often, when people describe a holistic education, they’re lamenting the loss of the arts in our schools—it is that plus much more. Our educational strategies should include the arts, health, career-technical education, computer science, etc. It should be grounded in college- and career-readiness and support students with pursuing robust post-secondary options. A holistic education without students learning about character education and social justice is a limited education and doesn’t truly prepare students for their work outside of school.
  6. Learner of Culture: Educators should be curious, respectful and knowledgeable about Black history and culture while maintaining a high sense of humility and curiosity. Even if you have taught Black children for decades, don’t assume you know the struggles of Black folks better than they do. Too many educators have this outlook.
  7. Skilled in Channeling Anger: Students should be angry. Often, it is impossible to truly teach Black students and help them to see the world as it is and the promise of what society can be at the optimal levels without them becoming angry. I am not speaking of the self-destructive anger, I am speaking about the anger that spurs action towards positive outcomes. Malcolm X said, when people get angry they take action. And, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
  8. Communal Outlook: Black culture often demands a marriage with individuality and community. Too often, American society and educators celebrate individualistic goals and place individual accomplishments above community achievements. This is a mistake and leads to disharmony and frustration. There should be a balance and community-based goals should be an integral part of any educational system.
  9. Sense of Purpose: Educators who are working for the liberation of students of color will need to have and maintain a strong sense of purpose. The why and the how they approach the work is crucial—without it being grounded as incubators of dismantling white supremacy in its many forms, it may miss the mark. Conscious and committed educators view our schools as environments that can foster a commitment to our communities. Educators must also do the work and professional development that hones their skills as liberators, not overseers of the existing system. Without a strong sense of purpose, an educator can easily become a perpetrator of the very injustices they initially sought to dismantle.

 

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Sharif writes about educating and supporting black youth at his Philly's 7th Ward blog, where an original version of this post was first published.