I’m doing something today that I’ve never done before — yielding my space to someone else.
I don’t make this decision lightly. Having this space is a privilege, especially for a woman of color.
It’s why long ago I made the deliberate choice to use this platform to amplify the people and voices that so many choose not to see or hear, or care about.
But today I am using it to amplify a message from Maureen Boland, a Philadelphia teacher — a young, middle-class, white woman who not only recognizes her privilege but who has made her own deliberate choice to loudly and bravely use it on behalf of her students.
Boland inspired an awakening in her ninth graders, and they in turn are demanding a reckoning of the everyday violence that they face but that so many choose to ignore.
This is what an ally — a true ally — looks like.
Dear Philadelphians of Privilege,
On behalf of Philadelphia’s students, I invite you to the Art Museum steps on June 11 [at 1 p.m.] to stand with the families and friends of victims of gun violence. Allow me a moment to explain my use of the word privilege.
If you live, not on, but within walking distance of dangerous streets, your access to safety is a privilege. If you have not buried a child, sibling, or parent, because of gun violence, you are free of a kind of PTSD that sickens families. That is a privilege.
If hearing gunshots would be jarring to you, then guns have not become normalized in your world, and so, you are privileged. If you have never taken cover from bullets, you enjoy a life that some students have trouble imagining.
Here is why you should accept this invitation: Even though you may not be directly impacted by it, you can disrupt the cycle of violence that traps many of Philadelphia’s children, and who did not create the conditions that lead to violence. They want liberation. But it’s hard to stop it from within — especially if you are a child. Although you are on the outside looking in, you can provide more counteractive force than you may realize.
Let me explain.
When students attended March for Our Lives in D.C., they were deeply affected by the presence of others who stood in solidarity. They felt very visible, and months later, they are still feeling energized. They see themselves as leaders and recognize the complexity of the violence they face. And get this: They are young and fearless enough to think that June 11 might make us a true reflection of our “City of Brotherly Love” epithet.
For almost 20 years, in classrooms hushed by anguish, students have shared with me their stories of dead fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins in countless essays that would break your heart. But those everyday expressions of grieving children became as normal to me as chalk. When I saw the traumatized Parkland community rise up and begin an immediate full-court press on the government and media, I felt, among other things, disgusted with myself. Where was my outrage and demands for the protection of my students? Why was I behaving like I too was sleepwalking from PTSD?
Some of us have awoken in recent months. But it is so easy to become groggy and distracted. Your physical presence will urge us on. A “like” on social media won’t cut it this time. Ask for permission to take a late and long lunch. Maybe you are especially privileged with a boss who will encourage her entire staff to attend. Wait — maybe you are the boss!
Finally, Philadelphians of Privilege, remember gathering for our underdog Eagles? Remember what it was like to see ourselves as a world-class and yet, somehow, family-oriented city all at once? Aren’t our most vulnerable children our actual underdogs? Can that world-class feeling ever last while horrors of violence and inequality persist? Take it from me — a person who moves within your world and theirs — showing up matters a lot.
A Fellow Philadelphian of Privilege