Ahead of the Women’s March on Philadelphia this weekend, allow me a moment to make an introduction.
Incoming Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw? Please meet Myriah Padilla, a Parkway Center City Middle College freshman. I know you don’t officially start until February, commissioner, and your dance card is probably already full, but I hope you’ll make time for this impressive young woman who wants to follow in your footsteps.
I met up this week with Padilla and two of her high school classmates, Cyniah Drew, a sophomore, and Kareema Chisolm, a junior who I first met in 2018 when she and her class wrote essays about how gun violence impacts their lives.
The three teens will be speaking together about gun violence at the march on Saturday, too. And how could they not? We ended last year with upward of 1,435 shootings in Philadelphia. As of Jan. 15, there have been 61 shootings this year, 18 of them fatal. Gunfire is the soundtrack of the city.
The three rightly don’t have a lot of hope that the adults are doing what it takes to make their lives safer. Especially when last year more women were shot in Philadelphia than in any other year in more than a decade.
This adult doesn’t disagree. But I have faith in them.
“When you don’t know any better, you often accept what’s given to you,” Drew’s great-grandmother, Marzella Stevens, said of the strides women have made since she was a girl. “But I don’t think that flies anymore.”
I called Stevens after I heard she would be on the Parkway to hear her great-granddaughter speak. Stevens, 76, has participated in the march before, but as you can imagine, this time it’s even more personal.
“I’m proud. So very proud,” she said. Stevens was well into her 30s by the time she got her degree from Temple University. A dream deferred, but nonetheless accomplished. A role model by any definition.
Inevitably my conversation with the students turned to women they look up to. Women in their lives, definitely, but others, too. Chisolm, who wants to get into politics by way of law school, was just 8 when Barack Obama became the first black president. She vividly remembers what it felt like to see Michelle Obama – a woman who looked like her and her family — step into the national spotlight as the first lady.
In a word: possibility.
"If they see themselves, they dream bigger,” said Serita Lewis, one of the march organizers who asked the students to speak.
Which brings us back to Padilla and that introduction.
Padilla had already set her sights on a future in law enforcement when Outlaw was named the city’s first black female police commissioner. But then...
“She’s just proof that women can do this,” Padilla said, beaming.
Picture it: Outlaw today. Police Commissioner Padilla tomorrow.
You know why — to borrow a Joe Biden-ism — it’s such a “BFD” to have the first black first lady, the first black female police commissioner, even the first female Inquirer publisher? Because young — and not-so-young — women can suddenly see themselves able to exist and succeed in spaces from which they were shut out.
On Saturday, women in Philadelphia and across the country will once again take to the streets as we first did in 2017 in response to Trump’s inauguration. A lot has happened in three years. As the administration’s attacks on women’s rights continues, it’s understandable to feel hopeless. Straight-up tired. But this weekend, remember the work we’ve put in and celebrate the victories, especially when it comes to increasingly claiming our place in public office. Among the speakers are three women elected to Congress following Trump’s election.
It might feel like an uphill battle — mostly because it is — but take strength from the women walking the hill ahead of us, and behind us, and alongside us.