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SVP Investee Spotlight: Center for Black Educator Development

As a child, Sharif El-Mekki was fortunate to attend an elementary school, Nidhamu Sasa, where he was surrounded by great Black educators and a sense of community.  

“I never thought that I was unloved in that school,” he says now. But he knows that is not the case for every African American child in the United States.  

This experience and the model of Dr. Martin Ryder, a well-respected Black educator now retired from the School District of Philadelphia, inspired Sharif to create the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED). This national nonprofit is creating a pipeline to increase the number of Black educators working in low-income communities. The Center recruits talented African American students from high school and college to participate in paid apprenticeships and mentorships to inspire them to pursue a career in education. Other programs include professional learning opportunities for educators and advocacy activities.

The current under-representation of African Americans among educators in public schools is jeopardizing our children’s future. In the School District of Philadelphia, only 24 percent of educators are Black, in contrast with the fact that 49 percent of the students are African American.

A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that having at least one Black teacher in elementary school reduces low-income Black students’ probability of dropping out by 29 percent, and by 39 percent for very low-income Black boys. In terms of post-secondary achievement, Black students who have one Black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, and those who have two are 32 percent more likely. This leads to improved outcomes and greater quality of life as adults. 
Innovative organizations working to address this issue, such as the Center for Black Educator Development, are finding engaged allies in philanthropy. In 2021, CBED received an unrestricted grant of $225,000 committed over a three-year period by Social Venture Partners (SVP) Philadelphia. As a collective giving network of engaged donors (called Partners), SVP Philadelphia provides general operating grants to poverty-fighting organizations led by and serving Black, Brown, and Indigenous Philadelphians of color. SVP Partners contribute their money, time, and professional skills to support the work of the investees through capacity-building support.  “There are two things that really stood out with SVP,” says El-Mekki. “One is the Philadelphia focus, and the other one is that it is composed of normal citizens coming together to solve complex issues, particularly poverty.”   



CBED has also benefited from the capacity-building support offered by SVP partners, as El-Mekki declares: “Transitioning from a grassroots nonprofit to an institution is going to take a lot of capacity-building efforts. We are grateful to have partners like SVP who can help us think through what it means to take an organization from its beginning stages to become a sustainable institution in our city. SVP Partners have very deep and varied expertise and we are fortunate to have access to it, which is absolutely critical for any organization--but especially ours.” 

 Starting this summer, the Center will be expanding to Detroit, the third city hosting its programs outside of Philadelphia and Camden. “Philadelphia is our home base, but we are now starting our expansion to other cities around the country that want to have a Black teacher pipeline in their region,” explains El-Mekki.  

A critical part of this expansion plan is fundraising. The organization used the initial round of SVP’s investment to fund the Freedom School Literacy Academy program—namely hiring high school and college students as Black teacher apprentices, developing content, and buying materials. But ensuring the sustainability and expansion of the Center will require securing more resources, like multi-year grants and individual donations. 

 Sharif is reminded of the urgent need for more Black educators every time he hears a third-grade child refer to a Freedom School Literacy Academy teacher apprentice as my first Black teacher ever.”  

 Being surrounded by young people gives El-Mekki energy and inspiration. As he puts it: “When I see the youth, I think that hope and help are on their way.” 

Social Venture Partners Philadelphia works side by side with nonprofits that are fighting to end poverty in Philadelphia. In a city where one in four of our neighbors is surviving on less than $24,000 per year, this work is urgent. For more information about our impact and how to become a Partner, visit here. 

How can you support the Center for Black Educator Development? 

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