From Officer to Educator

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

Khari Shabazz From Officer to Educator

By Brian Prowse-Gany

It’s just another school-day morning for the Harlem 5 Elementary School. Young children clad in their blue uniforms pop out of every conceivable corner, sprinting across the street and out of their parents’ cars to the line quickly forming at the school’s entrance.

But before these students make a dash toward their classroom, they are individually greeted by the school’s towering principal. “Fix your shirt … How’s your brother? … Did you finish that book?” Principal Khari Shabazz has something to say to each and every one of his students, all of whom he seems to know on a personal level. Although Shabazz may first appear intimidating with his large build and stern expression, the numerous hugs his students are happy to give him help reveal the caring teddy bear that lies underneath.

Shabazz loves his job and wakes up happy every morning to invite the community’s children in as his own. Helping the youth of impoverished communities like this one has always been a priority for Khari Shabazz.

After attending the New York Police Academy in the early ’90s, Shabazz was determined to “serve and protect” his old neighborhood the best way he knew how, as an officer of the law. Growing up on Long Island, he was victim of what he calls an “aggressive” local law enforcement that was predominantly white and decided a person of color behind the badge could be a great mediator for local residents of similar neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, by the time Shabazz was walking the beat in the Albany area of New York, crack cocaine had become the rage on the streets. The government had aggressively declared a war on drugs, leading to the mass incarceration of young black and brown youths in unprecedented numbers. Some of these kids in handcuffs were people he knew from the local neighborhoods, and Shabazz soon became disillusioned with his police career as a proper solution for community problems.

He wanted to get to these children earlier, to shape their lives before they made any of the bad decisions that were available to them in the streets. Shabazz left behind his old blue uniform and moved to the New York City, where he pursued different community programs including alternative education.

Now, years later, Shabazz has become the principal whom kids and faculty both admire and respect, and he has embraced his life in education as a “game changer” for the youth. “Education can be what separates you from going to prison or being a productive member of your community,” said Shabazz, who admits he gets ready for work each morning with a sense of happiness and satisfaction.

Khari Shabazz is currently the principal of Success Academy Harlem West, the network’s first middle school.