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Reflect on One’s Cultural Lens

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Lesson 2, Topic 62
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Sharif El-Mekki

Founder & CEO, The Center for Black Educator Development

“One of the things we talk about is windows and mirrors. A Black child in a typical school in America, they get windows…from the literature that’s put in front of them, from their teacher, from all the messages, they get windows to other people’s world, like this other world where people are better than you. Not a shared humanity, but a separate level of humanity. White children typically get the mirror…who’s in front of them, the literature that they read, the posters on the wall. Everything reinforces their whiteness and their superiority”​

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, mentoring, 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 Freedom School sites 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. His 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.

In 2014, El-Mekki founded The Fellowship – Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Phillys7thWard, 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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Having a positive racial identity is absolutely crucial for Black and Brown children. There’s research that says a Black child is more susceptible to teachers expectations and how it impacts their psyche. When we talk about a positive racial identity, this is both the shield and the tool that children of color need in order to be successful in society. But you have to understand the positive racial identity…

What harms it?

What helps it?

Mirrors in your curriculum, in your instruction, supports a positive racial identity for children of color. When they can see their contributions, when they see you understand their communities contributions, and their history, and their legacy in this country and in this world…it means something special to them and it can help empower them and inspire them to work harder, go further, and dig deeper into the impact that they can have.