Students rally for Black lives, school equity

A large crowd of mostly high school and college students marched from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to City Hall on Sunday.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk 

Jalynn Johnson was worried when she saw coverage of Black Lives Matter protests beginning to wane in early June.

It was around the time she graduated from William Penn Charter High School, and she and her classmates had been participating in multiple demonstrations a week.

So, she got an idea: Why don’t we organize a protest?

On Sunday, Johnson led a large crowd of mostly high school and college students in chants as they marched from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to City Hall. It was a brutally hot day, but those at the “Youth for Black Lives March” were energized.

Jalynn Johnson led the “Youth for Black Lives March” on Sunday. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

“We really wanted to create a space for high school and college students and then their friends and family,” said Johnson, who lives in Germantown.

The rally was organized by a group of recent Penn Charter grads, as well as one of Johnson’s friends who is enrolled at La Salle University.

Sharon Ahram, a Penn Charter faculty member, said Johnson and the other students were a force behind service projects and other efforts at the school.

“They are a group of students who deeply care about racial justice (and) inequities in our city,” said Ahram, who supported the students organizing the protest. “This is just a group of students who people deeply admire and respect. They were leaders in their own ways.”

Jameson Ford, a 2020 Penn Charter grad who is part of the group, helped kick off Sunday’s protest by invoking the Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who died July 17, quoting his famous line encouraging people to make “good trouble.”

“It is our job to continue his job and do what is right,” Ford, 18, of East Falls, said. “The time for change is now.”

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Outside City Hall, many marchers spoke about their experiences attending prestigious high schools and colleges, which tend to be predominately white.
Tiara Jenkins, who recently graduated from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, said she felt like she had to be a Black spokesperson in some of her classes.

“The worst feeling in the world is feeling like you have no home,” Jenkins said. “Not physical homelessness but, rather, no matter where you go, no matter who you’re around, no matter what anyone says to you, you’re not comfortable anywhere.”

Harold Anderson, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said a teacher in middle school thought he plagiarized a short story because it was well-written. A high school classmate couldn’t believe he was smart enough to get accepted to Penn, he said.

“The American dream is to be able to live in this country and not feel it in the pit of your soul every day to burn it to the ground,” said Anderson, who grew up in West Philadelphia.

“America promised its children life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and left Black and Brown people barely with life,” he added.

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Evan Wilson said he was always told growing up that he needed to “get a seat at the table.” He thought he got it when he transferred from a public school to Penn Charter.

But when he got there, Wilson, now a student at Wharton, said a track coach told him he should join the team as a way to give his “natural talent” to the school as a way to pay back his financial aid.

“When I’m looking at this table, this table that my elders told me, ‘Work hard to get a seat at that table,’” Wilson said. “Increasingly, I’m understanding this table was not built for me.”

Those behind Sunday’s demonstration released a list of demands to go along with the event. They include defunding and reallocating money from the Philadelphia Police Department to social services; increased and equitable funding for schools; Black history and culture courses in all schools; and stable housing for college students and families.

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk 

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