OVER THE PAST several weeks, citizens across the nation have taken part in a swiftly growing movement that demands change to a system that failed to indict the police officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner.
Certainly, the movement did not begin with these two tragic incidents. However, the recent groundswell of activism, particularly youth-led movements, has garnered national attention and has coalesced into a coast-to-coast rallying cry for change. Just this past week, students from across the city participated in and led actions across the city. Several Philadelphia high school groups staged "die-ins" on Friday to state, unequivocally: Black lives matter.
As leaders of our organizations - the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union - we are committed to continuing to call into question a society that marginalizes youth of color.
Last school year, the death of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey sent shockwaves through our system. We know that a full-time nurse at her school on that day would have been able to see the signs of the asthma attack that took her life.
We rallied, we marched and we demanded justice for both Laporshia and for equitable, fair education funding. And yet, schools across Philadelphia remain woefully, criminally underfunded. Too many schools still lack full-time nurses, counselors and resources that are expected and required in schools in wealthier, more predominantly white communities.
The School District of Philadelphia and all of our respective organizations overwhelmingly exist to serve youth of color, and the racial disparities in education funding continue to reveal deeper, structural issues with the ways that our schools are supported, funded and valued.
Laporshia's death will not be in vain.
Mike Brown's death will not be in vain.
Eric Garner's death will not be in vain.
Too many families in Philadelphia, Ferguson, New York and across the nation will spend the holidays this year wondering "what if." We demand that no families, no citizens, no children are ever left to believe that their lives are valued less than others. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter.
As three black men in positions of leadership, we reject the notion that we live in a "postracial society." Racism is a serious, systemic problem, and one that we must collectively address.
No longer can we underfund schools and then blame students, teachers and parents for their "failures."
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of so many people of color - Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Eric Garner are but a few - are scrutinized in a way that allows media and society to remain complacent and even blame the victim.
Make no mistake, there is one circumstance that led to the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and the nonindictment of their killers: racism.
We encourage our educators to talk with their students - and listen to their concerns. Educators cannot dismiss the concerns and very real experiences of our youth.
We are uplifted to see the number of teachers and schools that have taken the initiative to make social justice a part of their everyday teaching and learning. We will continue to work with educators to provide them with resources and listen to their ideas.
In addition, we commit to working in partnership with leaders and members of our organizations, as well as with our Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) allies and other social-justice-minded citizens, to listen to Philadelphia's youth and work diligently with them to demand a change. A change that will leave a lasting legacy for Mike. For Eric. For Laporshia.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Hiram Rivera
Philadelphia Student Union
Youth United for Change