Baba John David Skief
Harambee's founder, John David Skief, had a vision that was larger than life. A vision that some of his closest friends wondered if it could become reality. His vision was of a system of education that taught African American students the truth about their full history and who they really are as individuals and as a people.
After graduating from Cheyney University in 1968, John David Skief accepted a teaching position at West Philly High. It was there when he began to put his convictions into practices by teaching true African American history, relating back to the continent of Africa. His classes were often standing room only as a number of students were known to forgo other classes to hear him speak.Throughout the years, he would travel to Africa to learn more about the land and the people to whom African Americans are connected. With each trip, he brought back a wealth of information.
In the early 1970s, a sustained Philadelphia teachers' strike brought K-12 education to a standstill. Skief rose to the occasion by bringing the community together to educate its children. After the strike ended, Skief maintained and expanded his vision. In 1997, Pennsylvania passed the Charter School Act, allowing communities to take responsibility for their children's education by establishing tuition-free public charter schools.
The Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School exists today as evidence that Baba Skief's vision has become reality by providing students the tools and direction they need to obtain Education for Self-Reliance. Baba Skief believed that in order for students to fully achieve Education for Self Reliance, they must learn the truth about who they are as a people and the global contributions made by members of their race. He further believed that in so doing African American children will not allow themselves to be defined by negative images portrayed through the media nor by stereotypes assigned by others, rather. they will define themselves through the lens of truth, hence developing a healthy self-esteem that will empower them to succeed in life both collectively and as individuals. As they become successful in life, Harambee alumni will be motivated to give back to their communities in a manner that will inspire others to seek Education for Self Reliance so that they too can succeed.
Baba Skief's vision was not confined by the school's walls. He saw Harambee as a base where the seeds of positive and meaningful societal change would be planted, resulting in a bountiful harvest that would be enjoyed at home in the local community and throughout the world. That vision has grown into reality. Today. Philadelphia is among the leading U.S. cities with African-centered charter schools- [this much in part due to Baba Skief's vision and his pioneering efforts to provide Education for Self Reliance through public school choice.] Moreover, Baba Skief's work is playing a significant role in reducing the city's dropout crisis because Harambee's unique educational environment builds within children at an early age, a healthy self esteem rooted in their true historical heritage, and instilling within them a drive to seek Education for Self-Reliance the antithesis of quitting school. The dropout crisis begins not in high school, but in the early years when children form their views of education and self.
In December 2007, John David Skief passed away unexpectedly at the age of 59. Yet, Harambee's continued success is a solid testament that his vision was anchored to something far greater than one man's convictions. Today, Harambee remains a popular public school of choice with a waiting list that exceeds 100 hopeful students.
Baba Kaleb Whitby (Baba K)
Kaleb Whitby was the first Chief Academic Officer (principal) of the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School. A leader of many with a servant's heart, the good of others was his chief priority from a young age, until his passing in 2004. As a student of West Philadephia High, Whitby was instrumental in organizing the Black Student Union during the 1960s. He helped organize African American high school students throughout the city to march and demonstrate at the Philadelphia School Board building on November 17,1967 to demand that African History be taught in the high schools. During that march, the high school youth were confronted by Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo and numerous police officers. Whitby was one of the many youth who were beaten by the police for their attempt to exercise their constitutional rights of freedom of speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Baba K was always involved in the betterment of our youth. He was a neighborhood block captain and committee person and affectionately known as Coach K during his 20 year commitment to the Sonny Hill League.
A strong advocate of Education for Self Reliance, Baba K was a force in establishing Independent Black Institutions (IBI) throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey, including the Harambee Institute. A lifetime member of the Council of Independent Black Institutions (ClBI), he was the organization's first National Science Expo Coordinator of all CIBI schools throughout the United States. He was also a Regional Conveyor of Atlantic North Area IBI schools and served on CIBI 's Curriculum Committee and Accreditation Committee.Baba K employed his experience and knowledge to help write Harambee's Charter School proposal after the 1997 Charter School Act was establi shed. As the charter school's first principal, he created all of the cultural ceremonies and rituals in our school that we adhere to today including Umoja Circle, Harambee Pledge, monthly Kuzaliwa Ceremonies, and Libation Words.
On March 2, 2004, Baba K transitioned. His influence in our school remains just as powerful as the time when he walked our halls.