When East High Principal Mike Hernandez hired Ebrahim Amara as Multicultural Services Coordinator in 2017, it was on an educated hunch. He had known Mr. Amara since he was in high school and saw in him skills that eclipsed his experience. “His strength was in relationships,” said Hernandez.
Plus he showed up. As an East High 2011 grad, Mr. Amara returned to his alma mater in his 3rd year at UW-Whitewater--where he studied Health Education, Wellness and Human Performances with a minor in Coaching--as an AVID tutor. Before graduation, he interned there with former East Athletic Director, Dave Kapp. Mr. Hernandez saw his commitment when he frequently ran into him at 6 a.m. as Mr. Amara ran weight training sessions and morning practices.
“I was here three days a week learning not just athletics, but also the art of coaching from former football coach, Steve Erato, and how he was engaging with students and how I can engage students,” he says. “He taught me that students who were in athletics had a little more support, but many kids who aren’t athletes don’t have anyone looking out for them, so I wanted to be that advocate for more students not just athletes.”
That hunch paid off. Mr. Amara is a dedicated educator with enough positive energy to fill an arena. He knows the playing field, he was there as a teen, long before his MSC position existed, and he sees what he is able to offer kids now. In his role, Mr. Amara gives students of color “a voice and advocacy.”
Mr. Amara remembers clearly muddling through school without support. At the age of 11 his father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, went back to West Africa and never returned. His absence left a hole that even his mother, a Madison College senior advisor who he says worked tirelessly to be both mother and father, was powerless to fill.
“I didn’t get into a lot of trouble, but I was always surrounded by good people. But even people I know, people I once considered to be very close, didn’t make it. One recently died of a drug-related death.”
Mr. Amara reflects on his peers’ lack of support, and his own support system as a teen, as inspiration in his current work with kids. “When you had things going on at home, or you had things like social or personal issues, you either had to hold it in or go to your friends, there wasn’t any guidance from staff here, even someone I could just open up to,” he says. “Now I feel like my position is always giving those students a person and a place they can feel is their own.”
He gestures to the empty table adjacent to his desk. ”Which is why I open up my space here, I have students who come here and this space is their space, giving them a sense of ownership and belonging is the identity piece, helping them find their identity is what the MSC position is all about.”
Mr. Amara started creating bonds with kids early. Since early in his college years, his summer job is with Madison Schools and Community Recreation (MSCR) as a site director. He continually connects with past MSCR kids on the street or at high school sporting events. “I just love the bonds we create, seeing them 3-4-5 years later and saying, “Hey you’re taller, you have all your teeth now.” ”
But his role reaches far beyond personal engagement with students, on and off-site, to community engagement and in-school group development supports for kids of color. As just a part of his position, Mr. Amara takes a panel of East High kids to area middle schools to help recruit qualified students of color to take Advanced Placement classes. He has watched these classes grow from seven kids of color, to over 100 enrolled this year.
“It’s important that we’re not just pushing this so we can say we have more kids of color in AP, so we’ve created our Level Up, Brotherhood, Sisterhood and Kings Journey groups, the Upward Bound Program,” he says. We started these so we’re not just throwing kids in there—let’s support them and keep them in the AP courses.”
Aside from being a varsity assistant basketball coach at East High, and a varsity assistant football coach at La Follette High, Mr. Amara is advisor to these African American exclusive groups, along with Black Student Union—which is open to kids of any ethnic or cultural background. He also keeps kids of color connected to community opportunities, which he finds particularly rewarding.
“I feel like in this role, being that it’s multi-cultural, I can touch every single student at East. I can in someway, somehow, interact with them, bring them an opportunity they never had before,” he says. “Finding opportunities that match students, like a local talent hunt, I can say, “Hey we have all of these student groups but I know this one student with this one talent and I can go track that student down.”
After years of being directed to sports over academics, Mr. Amara only saw himself as a head football coach or working in athletics at the collegiate level, not in this role, until Mr. Hernandez told him ‘Your skill set is what we need, your skill set is perfect for the job.’
“I love doing this, I love making connections, I love coordinating events with people, l love bringing student ideas to flourish. I love this.”
- Pat Dillon