The good news is that Arlene Ackerman can't hurt us anymore -- the disgraced ex-Philly schools chief has literally gone to the desert. The even better news is that Duong Nghe Ly -- a victim of the violence at South Philadelphia High School that festered under the unwatchful eye of Ackerman and the hapless principal she installed there -- is still in Philly, fighting for a better city. He wrote this piece to mark the three-year anniversary of the violence.
Today, I am at the University of Pennsylvania, the first in my family to attend a private institution. Having been here for two years, I have taken a lot of things for granted. I used to go to school every day feeling unsafe and stressed out, wondering when I would be mocked, teased, or beaten up because of who I was. Now, even at 2 a.m., I walk to my dorm feeling perfectly safe, knowing that Penn police are on campus to protect me. It amazes me sometimes to look back and reflect on my newly found privilege.
I have not forgotten that many people I know left South Philadelphia High School — students of all races. I especially feel pain for the students who left because of harassment and bias they had experienced at school. That was something the school should have stopped. Of the six Chinese immigrant students who went to the hospital on Dec. 3, 2009, five dropped out of school.
As I look back on three years, I have learned to be more conscious of my privilege and deliberate in my actions. So I have learned to invest my time and energy on specific issues that I am passionate about. I am pursuing a sociology major and hope to return to my South Philadelphia neighborhood as a community organizer and educator. Most important, I have found a network of like minds from around the country that inspire me. There is still a lot to learn, but I’m developing my own sense of social justice and political consciousness.
I think the sky is the limit for Duong Nghe Ly -- and, as a footnote. his story also reminds us that "community organizer" is a noble calling, despite claims to the contrary.