Youth for Black Lives, an independent Philadelphia activist group, marched from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to City Hall on Sunday, Aug. 2 to protest racism in Philadelphia schools.
The march was organized and led by Jalynn Johnson along with Vanessa Ewing, Jameson Ford, Sabrina Shaffer, Savannah Payton, Sydney Rogers, and Justin Wilson, all of whom are recent graduates of the William Penn Charter School, except for Rogers, who currently attends La Salle University. Several hundred people attended the event.
“We felt the momentum for Black Lives Matter dying down,” Johnson said. “We did not like that, so we really, really wanted to create a space for our youth to come out and support Black Lives Matter publicly.”
The organizers took turns reading the group’s demands, calling on the city government to defund the police and direct the money to social services for homelessness and affordable housing, mental health, health care, and education on the steps of the art museum.
“Police shouldn’t be expected to handle every situation, like homelessness or mental health crises or kids in school acting up in class,” Ewing said. “That’s not what they’re trained for.”
Ewing said nonviolent situations often turn violent when police are called.
“So many are scared of the phrase ‘defund the police,’ but the police don’t prevent crime, they respond to it,” she said.
Wilson pointed out that many black and brown students in Philadelphia attend schools that have inadequate resources and learn in facilities deemed unsafe.
Wilson called for a more equitable distribution of resources in the city so that school buildings might be renovated, more counselors might be hired to help students with mental health, and more students might have access to advanced learning tracks.
“We call on mega-nonprofits such as the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel to pay PILOTS, or payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, to support local public schools,” Wilson said.
Another demand was for Black history to be taught in schools as part of the core curriculum, not just as an elective.
After demands were read, the crowd chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “When Black students are under attack what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
The crowd continued to chant as it made its way along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Once at City Hall, there were more speeches and an open mic for Black students to share their experiences.
“I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve had to allow a white teacher or student get away with diminishing my experiences,” Harold Anderson, a business student at University of Pennsylvania, said.
Another student speaker, Tiara Jenkins, spoke about the struggles of being a Black person in a majority-white school.
“We have all experienced similar hardships like code-switching every day, being a spokesperson for the Black community when you’re the only Black person in the classroom, biting your tongue, or refraining from acting on impulse for fear of losing your education,” she said. “As a young Black girl, I was forced to sacrifice my mental health and my happiness for a good education.”
Closing out the day, Johnson said the students’ fight is far from over and won’t stop at the schoolhouse gates. Organizers spoke directly to wealthier residents and institutions in the city.
“This is just a pocket of a much larger, and longer, battle against the greedy, divisional, and fearful mindset that our country constantly finds itself in,” Johnson said.
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