By Sharif El-Mekki

This post was originally published May 14, 2017 on Sharif El-Mekki's personal blog, Philly's 7th Ward.


Adam Stumacher recently wrote an article sharing the seething cauldron of conflicts that many schools represent. He bemoaned his part in claiming to uplift his students of color, only to participate in their dehumanization as well.

I try to tell myself none of this is within my control. I think of our school’s work to design courses around diverse texts, hire teachers who reflect our students’ cultures and connect kids with opportunities like internships — how we welcome all students with the promise that we will not rest until they achieve their potential.

But I see how their body language shifts when they walk through metal detectors, some wrapping their arms around themselves and others throwing their heads back in defiance. I see how they fixate on their phone screens or scarves, anything to avoid meeting my gaze. In that moment, there is no denying I am part of the machine.

He is right in his description of how many of our Black and Brown students enter schools on a daily basis. The fear of a hidden weapon or drugs is pervasive, but not more so than the fear of Black and Brown children. 

How children (and their communities) are welcomed into schools demonstrates how we feel about them and the level of respect we believe they deserve. No one wants a weapon in their school. But, it would be interesting to know, out of all the tragedies that have occurred in schools across the country,  how many white schools have erected green zone bulwarks in their schools, in response. 

School districts that respond with more security are showing students and families that “security” ” is of more value than education, and controlling students is more important than providing counseling. It makes total sense for students to feel like they start their day treated like criminals,and t makes the mindset of the adults ever more transparent.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sharif was selected as the Southwest Region School District of Philadelphia Principal of the Year, West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhoods & Businesses Education Leader of the Year, and has received a community partnership award at Pennsylvania's House of Representatives' Community Service Awards. Recently, his school's college acceptance rate was 100%. This success was reached by tracking students and backwards mapping?that is, determining the skills necessary for college graduation and infusing those skills into staff?s work with students. For example, the schools now has a College Continuum that allows all staff to see what skills students should have in each grade (7-12) and provides strategies that they can all use on a daily basis to increase their students? strengths. In his spare time, he fosters his love of sports, reading, and languages (Farsi, Arabic, and Spanish).