Maureen Boland sat in an oversize chair in her Philly living room. She looked tired, and understandably so.
It had been less than two months since I’d gone to Parkway Center City Middle College to hear her students read essays about whether they’d participate in the national school walkout in support of the survivors of the Parkland school massacre.
Where, wondered many of the ninth graders, was the solidarity for them as they lived, and died, at the mercy of violence that mostly went ignored?
Since, it’s been a blur of attention (not always good) and activity and activism-in-training, led by students but awakened by Boland, who in addition to supporting her budding activists also had classes to teach and papers to grade. Romeo and Juliet wasn’t going to teach itself.
Parkland students sent messages and a love flag through the Love Button Global Movement. an organization that fosters acts of kindness.
Parkway, in turn, sent a love flag to students at Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, after two students were shot and killed in a span of less than five months.
“You are not alone,” the Parkway students wrote in a letter they included with the flag.
March for Our Lives organizers paid for Philly students to go to Washington for the national call for gun reform.
Students met with politicians in Harrisburg to push for gun laws.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Councilwoman Cindy Bass visited the school to hear the students talk about the toll violence had already taken on their young lives.
Sixty percent of the ninth graders at Parkway have lost a relative to gun violence.
Honored to be invited by Parkway Center City Middle College students to hear their thoughts on how to reduce gun violence in our communities. More than 50% of students here have witnessed at least one shooting. That's an outrage. #PHLed #WeAreParkway pic.twitter.com/kIfrRMu87Y
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) April 23, 2018
The Pulitzer Center in D.C. has invited students in June to be part of a workshop on gun violence with other advocates and journalists.
And, the teens have started a social justice club at the school — with plans, so many plans, to do all they can to take advantage of attention they know better than most is fleeting.
At times, Boland confided, she feels overwhelmed by the energy that the last few months have generated.
Students who had been reluctant to join a fight they’d been left to deal with on their own are now itching to be seen and heard. She wonders how the summer will impact the momentum, how she can best support them when she’s not in daily contact.
They are all realizing that, now, the real work begins.
They are ready.
“The past two months have taught them they are an important part of the conversation,” Boland said. “I don’t think that can ever be taken away from them, and so in that sense I am deeply satisfied.”
Reading the letters of thanks they wrote the Parkland students, I can see why. And I am hopeful and inspired that just as the Parkland students ignited a movement, the Philly students can lead a long-overdue reckoning in Philadelphia.
On June 11, for the third year in a row, I am calling on Philadelphians affected by violence to fill the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
There are those who I know will be there, who have stood with me on those steps since the beginning. Mostly mothers of children whose deaths went unnoticed and unsolved.
This year, my hope is that the young people will lead the way and demand that the rest of the city follows.
So, mark your calendars. Spread the word. Bring your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, because as I’ve said since my first call, those steps should be full because violence touches every single one of us in one way or another.
One of the most important lessons we’ve learned since Parkland is that we should be listening to the young people around us, a generation that has shouldered the brunt of a nation’s apathy and inaction.
So, I leave you with these words, from one of the letters of thanks Parkway students sent to Parkland.
“The world is capable of being cruel at times, but strength comes in numbers.”