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Francine Shakir

Although they talk about the diversity of San Francisco and it being a progressive place, it’s hard for black children. You either send your kids off to school somewhere else or you have them stick it out to try and fit the mold of being a smart black kid in San Francisco where they’re either going to make it or break it. Figuring out where my kids should go to school was probably the most difficult thing I had to do and I’m not sure I made all the right choices, but I did my best.

My siblings and I were the first black children to integrate into a public school in our San Francisco neighborhood. We weren’t bused in. My parents were fortunate enough to buy a house in that neighborhood and it was long after Brown v. Board of Education that this particular school decided to bring black students in. We faced hell, being the only black children in that school.

Two years later, they started to bus in kids from Bayview-Hunters Point. I went through a real transformation during my time there. I had to find a way to feel okay about myself being so different and also find a way to help others feel okay about me. My siblings and I don’t talk that much about how we suffered as individuals, but I know I suffered. I didn’t even have my first black teacher until sixth grade but when I did I wanted to follow her all over the world.

My daughter now has three children with her husband and is living in San Francisco. They have two boys and a daughter, and she’s constantly at that school trying to figure out what needs to happen in regards to her kids, these teachers, and the on-going racial issues. I said, “I told you. If you’re going to have children, you need to be ready.” You have to know what schools they’re going to go to. You need to prepare for that because it’s going to be one of the most difficult challenges in your life. I don’t think she listened, but I’m helping her out as best I can.

Black children need to be grounded in their own culture. They will be stronger if they’re really grounded in who they are as African people. Make sure they know they wear a crown, the responsibility that comes with wearing it, and that they should not allow anyone to take away that crown or the light they carry within them. Lastly tell them that they must honor who they are and persevere.

Francine Shakir
Founder and Executive Director of the Ascend Institute for Educational Change
Culture and Arts Director of the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center, SF State