Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Story

Today was our last day focusing on African American history and racial inequality in the United States. The topic that we covered today was Race and Policing. In light of recent events, this felt especially relevant. Dr. Hanson gave us a brief overview of how black interactions with the police got to be so hostile. He told us about different stages in black history such as slavery, The Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, urbanization, deindustrialization and suburbanization, and the Civil Rights movement. All of this has led to poverty, drugs, and crime being very prevalent in many black communities, which, along with the race riots that occurred during and after the Civil Rights movement, have caused police to crack down on African Americans.

In order to address the recent shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas, our teachers had us use post it notes to express how we were feeling about them, We did a gallery walk of everybody's emotions, which ranged from angry to sad to scared to numb. Our teachers also encouraged us to take care of ourselves over the weekend and, if we felt called to, to organize in the best ways we could.

Today, our speaker was Professor Imani Perry, who teaches at Princeton. Professor Perry gave us a lecture about the history of police mistreatment of African Americans all the way back to the Reconstruction era, and the issue as it stands in our society today. The lecture was information-dense, but there were a few of her points that she really wanted us to take away from the talk. One was that we had to think about the structures in place that lead to incidences of police brutality, such as the fact that police are pressured to make a certain number of arrests and that they are rarely held accountable for the violence they inflict. This was the point that stuck with me the most, because I agree that that is a more proactive way to think about tragedies, instead of getting caught up in the emotion of it all.

Professor Perry held quite a long discussion after her lecture in which we as a class asked her questions about social justice issues, mostly surrounding racial inequality. During this discussion, she discussed her personal views about issues not only related to police brutality but on education, mass incarceration, and the media. This made me realize how many factors really go into the injustices that the black community faces in the United States. It was a bit overwhelming, but also helpful to have it all broken down and layed out in front of me. I came away feeling much more educated about the topic and prepared to do work around it.

I have been trying to try a new thing at lunch every day so far, but I realized today that I'm almost out of options! When we returned from our lunch hour, we set out again into downtown Philadelphia to visit the African American History Museum. As usual, we took the subway, but we got off at a different station than we usually do and had a shorter walk to the museum. There, we visited an exhibit about the stories of African Americans in Philadelphia from 1776 to 1876. The exhibit stressed the accomplishments of early African Americans and the role that African Americans played in aiding their communities. It showed how active these African Americans were, as opposed to the common misconception that it was whites who saved them from slavery.

The second exhibit that we saw was a photo project initiated by a student at Yale, which featured pictures done by high school students in different areas of the country. These pictures addressed issues such as the privatization of prisons and voting accessibility. They were so creative, and it was shocking that people from our age group were able to create things so meaningful. There was one project that was almost like a collage, with images from different points in black history all combined into one photograph. However, it was all done so that the photograph looked like it was taken at one place and time, creating an interesting effect where a sign announcing a slave auction was right next to a police officer stopping a black man on the street in the 1980s.

At the end of our visit, we were supposed to watch a movie, but it took a while to set it up and by the time it was ready it was too late. We left shortly afterwards, only spending a few more minutes roaming the exhibits. Once we got back to UPenn's campus, we were on our own!

Some of my friends and I (the ones over 16) went to check out the gym, which we will have access to throughout our time in the program. My friend Jack and I spent the first half an hour there on the rock climbing wall. I have climbed a rock wall about twice in my life, but Jack is on a rock climbing team, so he had to help me out a bit to figure out which paths would be manageable for me. I found rock climbing to be really fun, as it created a sense of adventure without actually doing anything dangerous. It's also kind of like a puzzle trying to figure out where you're supposed to place your hands and feet next.

To round out our time in the gym, my friends and I made use of the cardio machines. I tried the bike, on which I didn't last very long, and ended up on the treadmill watching an episode of Law and Order: SVU while I walked. At 6:00 PM, we got smoothies and left for dinner, wanting to meet up with some of our younger friends there who weren't able to come to the gym with us. Together, we went back to the dorms to wash up and retrieve our tickets for the movie theatre, where we go each Friday. This day, we were going to see Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, which started at 7:45. Although we met in the quad to get our tickets at 7:15, there were so many people in line that we barely made it on time!

It turns out that on the way to the theatre, my friends and I bore witness to an armed robbery. We saw a girl run out of a bank talking about a woman inside with a gun, who came out soon after. Luckily, there were policemen nearby to handle the situation. As for us, we just quickly ducked inside the theatre, which was right around the corner from the bank. The movie was funny, but we were all still pretty shaken up as we watched it and on our way back to the Quadrangle. We didn't know exactly what had happened until some of us got notifications on our phones from news publications about the robbery. Luckily, by then, we had made it to the safety of our dorms.

Today was a busy day, and it passed quickly for me. It was a good balance between interesting coursework and fun free time spent with my friends. One of these friends pointed out this evening how our programs were almost 1/3 of the way over, which is crazy to think about. It feels like the very beginning to me!

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