The Peace March at Julia de Burgos Elementary School in the West Kensington section of Philadelphia was not a response to the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. No, it was in response to the school's fifth lockdown in eight weeks, beautifully and tragically depicted by The Daily News' Helen Ubiñas.
But it was fitting that the march took place the day after the Grand Jury announcement declaring that the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen killed in broad daylight, was deemed unworthy of criminal charges to be brought against his shooter. Because really, the scene in Kensington and the scene in Ferguson are both reflective of what's allowed to happen in predominantly poor and minority American communities.
Julia de Burgos Elementary School is situated in a historically crime-ridden neighborhood, nicknamed "The Badlands," thick with drug trade and "hot" corners. It is also home to many dedicated and committed families who are simply not given a fair chance, and educators and community committed to providing for the children.
On November 25, 2014, the K-8 school, guided by their Principal and educators, flanked in support by elected officials and community leaders, took thirty minutes out of their school day to march the neighborhood. They bore signs written in bright colors, pleading for a drug-free, peaceful society. They chanted, "No more shootings! We want peace!" And they made their voices heard. They demanded it.
During my 9 years teaching at de Burgos, the systemic poverty and its traumatic effects went largely unaddressed. Lockdowns ("Code Blue") were not uncommon. I remember my first year, experiencing my first lockdown and being shaken to the core. How, I wondered, in a major American city, is this what our students experience in school? And I was doubly shaken to realize that the vast majority of my students seemed numb to the lockdown. 5 year olds -- who sat in the corner huddled with their teacher during class time -- immediately bounced back and continued on with their day.
In Ferguson, a Grand Jury decided that Darren Wilson's shooting of Mike Brown did not even merit an indictment. And in defending this decision, St. Louis County Prosecutor McCulloch spent nearly 30 minutes pointing fingers and declaring "The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about." The most significant challenge in all of this was the news cycle? More of a challenge than examining the root causes of what ultimately resulted in Mike Brown lying dead in the street?
And in both communities -- Ferguson and West Kensington -- community members have been told in no uncertain terms that some lives matter more than others.
The things that we allow -- yes, all of us -- allow to happen to children in West Kensington, in Ferguson, and in many (largely poor and minority) communities across our nation are nothing short of institutionalized racism, classism and a refusal to admit that our society has two sets of standards for how we treat our citizens.
Certainly there's no easy answer to fixing structural inequity and injustice. But, we can work to continue to draw attention to it. I did not grow up worrying about lockdowns in my school, nor have I had to experience being racially profiled on a traffic stop or going through airport security.
But that doesn't mean it's not my problem. It is my problem. And it's yours too.
Because if we remain silent and allow students in West Kensington to endure the well-researched effects of poverty and marginalization, then we are never, ever going to have the thriving schools and communities all of our kids deserve. If we isolate the problems of racial profiling and refuse to acknowledge that race was, in fact, relevant in the killing of Mike Brown, we will never become the society where everyone has a fair shot.
So, Ferguson marches on. DeBurgos marches on.