In the wake of the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend—and our President’s pitiful response—it can be easy to look away in disgust and despair. There are those who are claiming of the violent white supremacy on parade that, “This is not us,” and those who are countering the opposite, that “This IS us.” Both are right. This ugly episode has brought out both the worst of America and its best—those who stood against, fought back, and continue to join together for what is good and right in this country.
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The brilliant Fred Rogers used to calm American children after disasters by telling them what his mother told him when he was a boy: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
Here, some ways you can be a local helper after this national disaster:
1 Support Philadelphians who are working to bridge race relations, like POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild), an interfaith, interracial group working to lift up the lives of poor communities of color, which organized last night’s Philly is Charlottesville March.
2 Show up—especially if you are not black or Jewish. “Most of the black people I know were too emotionally exhausted to go to anybody’s rally this weekend,” notes Erica Atwood, interim executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, and the city’s former director of Black Male engagement. “But it brought me great joy to see many of my white and non-black POC friends at Dilworth Plaza via social media. When we are in need of a respite, please continue to show up and hold it down.”
Start on Saturday, with Philadelphia Stand Against Racism, when your neighbors will be lining Broad Street from noon to 1 pm in response to Charlottesville. Make It Right PHL, among other places, is a good place to keep up on rallies and other ways to make yourself seen and heard.
3 Support local advocacy organization run by people of color whose mission you believe in, like the ACLU of Pennsylvania, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Philly for REAL Justice, The COLOURS organization or Black Lives Matter.
5 Support organizations in Philadelphia that work with young African Americans, like Coded by Kids, Art Sanctuary, Mighty Writers, Institute for the Development of African American Youth (IDAAY), 100BlackMen and Girls on the Run Philly.
6 Talk to your kids. It’s really hard, and it should be age appropriate; but you have to do it. Empathy, understanding and tolerance has to be taught, and reinforced. Otherwise, nothing will change. The New York Times Book Review put together this list of books for different ages on racism, culturalism and tolerance. This article discusses how a teacher in Charlottesville will explain the protests to her students.
7 Educate yourself. Attend one of Showing Up for Racial Justice’s trainings this month on Spotting White Supremacy: Capacity Building for White Allies. The local chapter of a national group is hosting a two-hour training on how to identify racism in multiracial movements, on August 17th and August 30th, both at 6:30 pm at the Friends Center. Everyone is welcome.
8 Show love and support for Philadelphia students. Join The Fellowship of Black Male Educators for its Suit Up, Show Up event on the first day of school, bringing together 1,000 black men at 10 schools to welcome students with a supply drive and volunteer opportunities. Encourage your school to incorporate all or part of the curriculum from the Philadelphia Black History Collaborative, a coalition of educators trying to change the way black history is taught. “Our students hear and see the hatred,” says Mastery Shoemaker Principal Sharif El-Mekki, founder of the Fellowship. “When hatred takes one negative step, Philadelphia’s light workers must take five steps of love.”
9 Promote local heroes of color—like scholar, athlete and civil rights martyr Octavius Catto, who will be the first African American to get his own statue in his hometown. You can donate to a Philadelphia Foundation fund for supporting educational materials.
10 Be a civically engaged resident of your city, your neighborhood, your block. Volunteer at a school, join your civic association, run for office. Even small improvements to the lives of those around you can have a ripple effect.
11 Hire a person just returning from prison. The Mayor’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative even offers a tax credit if you do so. Or support companies that do, like Quaker City Coffee and Brown’s Shop Rites.
12 Recruit, mentor, appoint, hold meet-and-greets for people of color, in spaces where they feel comfortable, so there are non-traditional voices at every table in every milieu.
13 Support black-owned businesses. Get an iBuyBlack card, which offers a discount at over 280 Philly businesses owned by African Americans. Want to go even further? Do what Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson suggested in his book, Tears We Cannot Stop and “pay the black person who cuts your grass double what you might ordinarily pay.”
14 Support local teachers’ efforts to teach tolerance in their classroom by donating to their fundraisers on DonorsChoose, many of which are for books about racism and tolerance.
15 Radically change who runs this country by advocating to make voting easier and more accessible to everyone. And vote. All the time.
16 Keep looking for ways to help dismantle racism. Check out this 13 page and growing Google Doc of resources and ideas that’s making the rounds nationally. See the Nation’s ideas on what do after Charlottesville. And see what the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests.Header Photo: Peter Haden