Voices from Our Community
On March 22, Penn Charter's Center for Public Purpose will host its fourth annual speakers event, this year featuring four inspiring educators from our community – the Penn Charter school community and our neighbors.
These individuals work within schools, lead non-profit organizations and manage innovative education spaces for social entrepreneurs. Each of these leaders embraces the Quaker testimony of Community in his or her work and each is making a profound impact on education in Philadelphia, the United States and globally.
Please join us for what will certainly be an enlightening evening.
Wednesday, March 22
William Penn Charter School, Main Building, Gummere Library
Ameen Akbar: YouthBuild Philadelphia
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they’ll never sit in,” is the motto that Ameen Akbar lives by throughout his continuing career in service to communities of Philadelphia.
Raised in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, Akbar has dedicated his life to being a driving force for change in the community, along with improving the lives of young people. He earned his bachelor's in business management from Penn State University in 1999. Shortly after graduation he worked in Philadelphia’s juvenile justice system.
Akbar is director of student life at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School and also he serves as vice president of the Young Legends Basketball program in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.
Catherine Griffin OPC '01: GoodCompany Ventures
GoodCompany Ventures launches entrepreneurs with businesses modeled on the conviction that global challenges are the raw material for transformative solutions, new markets and lasting value. Entrepreneurs come to GoodCompany from all over the globe, typically at a seed stage of development and the organization guides them through an intensive 12-week curriculum, designed to test assumptions, expose and remediate business vulnerabilities, and provide a platform for rapid scale.
As managing director Griffin draws on her operational and fundraising experience as a two-time social entrepreneur, cofounding ventures in the social shopping and ethical apparel industries after launching her career as part of GoodCompany’s second graduating class.
Prior to venturing into social enterprise, Griffin worked with the United Nations and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, in Geneva, Switzerland. She sits on the board of Power Up Gambia, a non-profit that brings reliable solar energy sources to healthcare facilities and clinics in the Gambia. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mark Hecker OPC '99: Reach, Inc.
Mark Hecker is a social worker and educator with extensive experience in secure and community-based settings, working primarily with teenagers facing significant academic and social challenges. In 2009, he founded Reach, Inc., an innovative literacy program that trains struggling teenage readers to tutor elementary students in reading. Reading skills of both the tutors and the tutees improve, and the tutors gain work-readiness skills as well.
“Our work is based on the idea that communities have the resources they need to solve their own problems," Hecker said in an interview for Penn Charter magazine. "The best tutors we can find for second and third graders are ninth, tenth graders within the community.”
A former DC Social Worker of the Year, Hecker's work also has been recognized by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Aspen Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, a master’s in social work from the University of North Carolina, and a master’s in education from Harvard University. He currently serves on the Overseers, Penn Charter's governing board.
Sharif El-Mekki: Mastery Charter Schools, The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice
After attending an elementary Freedom School as a child, middle school in Iran, and Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, El-Mekki attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a criminal justice major. After a brief stint as a social worker and counselor at the Youth Study Center, he became eager to make a community-focused impact.
He found his way into education and is currently the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. Shoemaker has been recognized by former President Obama and Oprah Winfrey for having created a school that partners with communities to turn around failing schools. Shoemaker Campus was also recently recognized as one of the top 10 middle school and top 10 high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African American students.
In addition El-Mekki is a founding member of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice. Recognizing that black male educators make up only 5 percent of the teaching population in the School District of Philadelphia, the Fellowship aims to triple this amount to 1,000 black male educators in our city by 2025.