This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Brian Hickey for NewsWorks
Just after 8 a.m. Monday, four teenagers stood across Stenton Avenue from Martin Luther King High School waiting for the light to change.
As they crossed the street to go inside for their first day of classes, they saw droves of adults lining the walkway to the front door and didn’t quite know what to make of it.
"We gotta walk through that?" one asked his friends.
Yes, came the answer as they approached a "Welcoming Committee" of alumni, neighbors, elected officials, clergy members, and others.
Those adults gathered at the end of a tumultuous summer to get the youths’ school year started with applause, well-wishes, high fives and "Welcome Back!" exhortations.
And that quartet of youths, like many of those who arrived earlier and later, couldn’t help but smile at the attention.
Why they were there
"The community is with them. The church is with them. When they’re walking in, we’re telling them that we’re all in this together," said State Rep. Dwight Evans, who was among the elected officials outside the school. "Nobody’s by themselves. We have to demonstrate what’s most important, and that’s education. We all have a role to play."
The sentiment was shared by school volunteers like Howard Whitner, who held a "Living the Dream" sign along the walkway during the event, which had occurred at the since-closed Germantown High School in the past.
And it was shared by clergy members like the Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church who, despite being a vocal School Reform Commission critic during the school-closings debate, shifted focus.
"No matter what the adults are doing, no matter what’s going on with that, somebody has to be simply focused on the young people," said Waller, who leads two churches in Northwest Philadelphia, thus making MLK his neighborhood school. "The way this day goes will set the trajectory for the whole academic year.
"While everybody else argues about whatever they’re arguing about, we’re focusing on the kids. … Bottom line is we’re here and they’re going to have a good day because we said so."