These days we should all 'push through'

Jasmyn Wright demonstrates the "push through" motion in her classroom at Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School in North Philadelphia. Wright has been featured in a Gap back to school campaign as an inspiring teacher after her video went viral last year.

Hope you saw the recent story of a Philadelphia teacher motivating kids with positive “push through” chants about overcoming adversity.

The inspiring piece, by reporter Sofiya Ballin, ran last week in the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

Its focus is 28-year-old Jasmyn Wright, an elementary school teacher at Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School in North Philly.

Her call-and-response routine with her students conveys simple messages of persistence and resilience, but they ended up going global, even featured in a Gap Inc. back-to-school TV ad.

The ad shows Wright walking through her class calling out questions to standing students who call back answers accompanied by choreographed hand movements.

For example, Wright: “What if it’s too hard?” Students: (pushing open hands straight out) “I’m gonna push through!” Wright: “What if you’re not good enough?” Students: (hands waving off the thought) “That’s not so!”

Wright: “Why, because?” Students: (forefingers to temples) “I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Basic, sure, but made pure and powerful by the genuine caring Wright exudes and the determined looks on her students’ faces; for one little girl, even joy.

Reading the piece and watching the ad is especially moving these days, given where we stand as a state and nation – with policy pushed solely by ideology, and societal struggles leading to violence in places such as Charlottesville, Va.

It made me want to enlist Wright to bring her impressive presence and rousing rhetoric to a larger stage, to elected officials, to all of us.

I picture her walking the halls of Congress, members standing outside their doors.

Wright: “What if it’s too tough to work together?”

Members: (hands pushed out) “I’m gonna push through!”

Wright: “What if Washington’s world of special interests keeps preventing progress for the American people?”

Members: (forefingers to temple) “I’m gonna remember why I’m here!”

Wright: “What if the leader who represents our country presses priorities that don’t include equal, enveloping care for all?”

Members: “I’m gonna remind myself that I work for those who elected me.”

I also see Wright in Harrisburg, another place in need of motivation. I see her standing in the House gallery, looking down at all 203 state House members.

Wright: “What if the people of Pennsylvania think you’re too big, too expensive, self-centered and rudderless?”

Members: “We’re gonna get shipshape!”

Wright: “Can you raise your arms and say just how?”

Members: (with arms raised) “We’ll cut our size and cut our cost. We’ll file receipts for our expenses. We won’t take pay when budgets are late.”

The key here, as in Wright’s classroom, is daily diligence. Say it over and over until you turn it into truth.

Now picture Wright wherever: Gov. Wolf’s office, Mayor Kenney’s office, City Council chambers, or (dare we dare) the White House.

Wright: “What if your tweets are harmful, demeaning, possibly dangerous, and not befitting a world leader?”

The president: (holding index finger and thumb together) “I’ll keep doing as I please, that I can tell you.”

OK, maybe it can’t work everywhere.

And maybe it can’t work anywhere. Maybe it’s just words said in rhythm that sound good, sound promising, but ultimately change nothing.

I’m a cynic. I don’t believe change for the better comes from within public institutions.

But I do believe change can happen. I believe it can happen if enough people commit to “push through” on whatever social cause, cultural challenge, or public policy is in play.

Schools need more Jasmyn Wrights. Kids need more reason to assert their worth and possibilities. And all of us need to keep questioning elected officials, civic leaders, and ourselves as to what we can do — once we put our minds to it.