This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Speaking only through their T-shirts, which read “We Are Not A Flash Mob,” a group of over 30 students descended quietly and purposefully around the fountain at Love Park on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
When they finally addressed the growing crowd of onlookers, they pledged, in unison, to reject violence, identify its root causes, and stand up against injustice. After a short march to the east side of City Hall to repeat this pledge, the group dispersed as quickly as they had assembled.
For the second time in as many months, students from the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools – now a historic coalition of eight groups including its founders the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) – gathered in a peaceful flash mob to demonstrate their commitment to nonviolence and undermine the city’s perception of youth as dangerous and destructive.
PSU members were joined by members of Philadelphia Freedom Schools, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, the Youth Commission, Boat People SOS, Citywide Student Government, Temple Youth Voices, and Youth United for Change.
“We came together across color lines and neighborhood boundaries to give an example to other young people and adults that youth of different backgrounds, and even languages can come together around shared goals,” said 11th grader Tatman Chio of Ben Franklin High School.
“We will not be divided,” he said.
While the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools aims to address youth violence in schools, PSU members said it is also important to challenge the growing fear that the city’s youth have become more violent and disorderly in public places.
“There has been a lot of negative feelings about young people in Philadelphia recently. We need people to see with these nonviolent flash mobs that we can organize and we can be powerful, but we can use our power in a disciplined way that is constructive,” said Justin Carter, a PSU member and 2010 graduate of West Philadelphia High School.
Though Carter said that the groups planned to hold a few more nonviolent protests this summer, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools does not simply consist of a series of public demonstrations.
The Campaign is also facilitating nonviolence workshops across the city and state, and preparing for a Summit on Nonviolence in the fall. These demonstrations, meetings, and workshops provide the foundation of the campaign’s platform to impact school policies, as they work alongside Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, District Attorney Seth Williams, and the School Reform Commission, all who have pledged support for the campaign.
While the effort to reject violence in schools may take place on a number of fronts, the importance of public awareness is not lost on the students, nor is the significance of holding these demonstrations in locations such as Love Park and City Hall.
Carter says, “These are places where people have gathered together and done great things. We want to show people that we are capable of achieving something we can be proud of as well.”