Sharif El-Mekki, National Fellowship, Cohort 2

State and City of Residence:

Philadelphia, PA

Job Description (grade level taught, position, title, etc.):

Principal of a 7-12 Charter/Founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice

What brought you to work in education? 

I entered into education looking for ways to make a significant impact on our communities. Although, I didn't initially look at leading a classroom as the biggest lever for social justice, I soon discovered that teaching was a powerful force to use to right some of our most entrenched social ills.

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?

In the Philadelphia/Camden region, we were looking to increase the number of Black men who lead our classrooms. Currently, 4.5% of Philly's teachers are Black men. We are working to address this by supporting current and aspiring educators. We know that we cannot only address this through traditional means. With a high dropout rate and a plethora of career choices available to Black college graduates, we are highlighting what resonates with many Black men- social justice.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

There were several things that I loved about being an America Achieves Fellow. I met some amazing educators from all over the country who challenged and inspired me, including AA Fellow, Dr. William Hayes, who helped us to launch The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice. Madonna Ramp, a Fellow, introduced me to the U.S. Department of Education's Ambassador Fellowship that I proudly participated in. America Achieves also challenged me to look beyond my school and engage with policy makers.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

One thing I would change is the inequitable funding systems that plague many districts. In PA, for example, only about 5% of the funding stream is equitably funded. The disparity is oppressive and does a disservice to our communities and overall state economy. Of course, I would also diversify our teaching force to closer reflect our student population. This isn’t just good for students of color, but for all students.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be? 

Probably "Fight the Power"or "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy.

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

"I am going to be a principal one day."

What’s your dream vacation?

I'd like to visit Isfahan again. Or, Ghana, and Cordoba, Spain.

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I have a 2nd degree Black Belt in Vita Saana, an African Martial art form.

What is your other favorite thing to do?

I love to read. Right now, I feel like I only read articles. But, I would love to read a great, can’t put-it-down novel.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Besides my parents and elementary school teachers, it would have to be Malcolm X. His transformation is quite remarkable.

What is one book every educator must read?

Malcolm X, of course. But, also, Savage Inequalities.

What made the biggest impact on you as a student?

I think having the parents that I did and the variety of schools that I attended had a tremendous impact on my outlook in life and educationally. I attended a Freedom School in Germantown section of Philadelphia and then went to middle school in Iran. Even my public high school experience (Overbrook HS) gave me context about the struggles that many students experience.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I have been proud to work with a group of 17 local educators-all Black men to launch our organization. We have set a high bar for ourselves, and we are excited to aggressively pursue our goals. I have also been enjoying blogging I have found it to be therapeutic, and I have had many people engaging with me through the site.