I’ve been teaching writing to ninth graders at Parkway Center City Middle College in Philadelphia for what feels like forever. The process doesn’t change much. There are run-on sentences to contend with, thesis statements to craft, and problems with pronoun references to solve. The content of the writing, tragically, is also predictable.
Without fail, each year, I will read numerous stories about siblings, cousins, parents, and friends who have been killed or wounded by guns. When I read such an essay, story, or poem, I will usually ask the writer a question like, How are the rest of the people in your family doing? Very often, I will hear about a mother who is coping with intense grief, anger, and fear. As a mother myself, and someone who knows well a couple of moms who have lost children too soon, my heart has always ached for these women who featured prominently in so many pieces of writing.
Most young people are incapable of running out of hope. And I learned a long time ago that it is best to follow their lead.
On Tuesday afternoon, the students of Parkway will honor those women in a flag football tournament that will raise money for “Moms Bonded by Grief,” a group of women who try to heal their own broken hearts by reaching out to others who have lost loved ones to violence. The tournament, which students will pay a small fee to attend, will culminate in a final game with police officers from the 17th District. We at Parkway are excited about this event, but we have a much bigger vision for Philadelphia. Before I tell you more about that vision, let me tell you about the moms and students behind this citywide call to action.
As one of the many Parkway staff members helping to make this event happen, I’ve come to feel devoted to this endeavor and especially to the “the moms” themselves, as we call them at school. I came to know some of these mothers when I met the remarkable leader of “Moms Bonded by Grief”, Terrez Mc Cleary, through the extraordinary work of Helen Ubiñas at the Inquirer. The moms came to PCCMC in 2017 and spoke to our students about their lives and losses, sharing their wisdom and otherworldly power with all of us. In spite of the relentless anguish with which they live, miraculously, these women spend much of their time and energy tending to the pain and needs of others.
Let me tell you about Parkway students. When we returned to school after all of it—virtual learning, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the season of protests—I figured there would be little interest in a “Second Annual Parkway Plays for Peace” event. While the first event, a 2019 basketball tournament with the officers from the 9th District was a wonderful success, I know how deflated I felt to see the further deterioration of community-police relations, and I expected the students to be all out of hope.
But as soon as we were back, kids would stop by and ask about planning the next event. When I said “but George Floyd…” they said, “that’s why we need to do this”. I was reminded that most young people are incapable of running out of hope. And I learned a long time ago that it is best to follow their lead.
Now, let me tell you about our grand yet absolutely achievable vision for Philly. We hope that this time next year every high school is knee-deep in planning their “Tuesday Before Thanksgiving Fundraiser” with the community relations officer in their police district. Maybe it’s flag football, maybe it’s basketball. Maybe it’s a talent show or maybe it’s a poetry slam. The activity itself doesn’t matter. It only matters that, throughout the city, young people and police come together for joyful activities that raise money for organizations committed to healing their communities.
So, Philly what will it be? Will you respond to our call to action with a donation to “Moms Bonded by Grief”? Or, will you do that and take an even bigger leap of faith by reaching out and letting us know how you can establish a new city-wide, Thanksgiving-week tradition?
Maureen Gallagher Boland is a ninth grade English teacher at Parkway Center City Middle College.
The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.Basketball players at Parkway Central High School