Monday, March 12, 2018

Black teenagers in Philadelphia wonder: Why doesn't the world listen to them?

The world is listening to Parkland teens. Some Philly kids wonder: Why not us?

Milan Sullivan is horrified that 17 people died in a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. And she does not disagree with the teenage survivors who have stood up since the massacre, demanding action on gun violence. 
But she’s not leaving class next week for the National School Walkout, and she won’t board a bus for Washington for the March for Our Liveson March 24. Sullivan, a junior at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker, is all for activism, but she is like a lot of her classmates: hesitating a little over this particular movement. 
For some students, it’s because they feel too removed from things that go on in suburban high schools in far-away places, or they feel numb to gun violence. Others wonder: Where was the attention during the protests over issues pressing our community, whether it be Black Lives Matter or the murder of a friend or relative? 
Politicians are going out of their way to help these kids,” Tatiana Amaya said of the Parkland activist students. “And there’s just a disconnect — when something happens in the white community, the black community is expected to support them, but people don’t stand up for the black community. The focus isn’t ‘What can we do to make black and brown kids feel safe in school?’ ” 
Amaya, Sullivan, and the other members of Raised Woke, a Mastery-Shoemaker club focused on social justice and youth engagement, wonder where the outrage is when people in predominantly black neighborhoods get shot.
They’re not alone. From Florida to Chicago, some people in marginalized communities have been asking the same question in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

“When something happens in the black community, we don’t get a lot of support,” Sullivan, 17, said. 
Or, as Kaiyah Taylor put it: “We have a lot of dying in our community, and no one is paying attention.” (Her brother’s friend was recently gunned down on her block, Taylor said, and there was no media coverage, no story about what the victim was like, no uprising to demand answers.) 
No one disputes that the mass slaughter in a matter of minutes by a teen toting an assault weapon rekindles what has been a bitterly fought and politically divisive national debate in the last two decades. But for this group of Mastery-Shoemaker students, a collection of dynamic, bright high school juniors, the issue is complicated, and a lot of it is about race. 
What would have happened if the mass shooting happened in Philadelphia, not suburban Parkland? the students asked during a recent wide-ranging conversation. Would the outrage have been as sharp? As national? They couldn’t imagine any celebrities coming to survivors’ aid with cash and acclaim
“We do care,” said Ahmad Abdullah, 17, “but we have to take care of ourselves.” 
Why do black shooters tend to be portrayed as thugs and white shooters quickly labeled as mentally ill? the teens wanted to know. 
And frankly, there’s also an element of desensitization, said Nathaniel Brown. “We’re numb when it comes to gun violence,” said Brown. “We see it every day. Honestly, you can only cry but so much.” 
Around the Mastery-Shoemaker conference room where the students gathered, everyone nodded. Then the talk turned to President Trump’s call to arm teachers as a way to ward off school shooters. Kyra Lewis is OK with arming “certain people — like security guards, or the deans.” 
But most students shared Perla Espinal’s view. “School is a safe place — we don’t want guns in school,” said Espinal, 16. “That’s promoting gun violence,” said Amaya. “It shouldn’t be that you have to have guns to feel safe.”

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