The systems of the world are designed to oppress. Following Jesus is true liberation. That’s the conclusion I keep coming to no matter where I turn.
During the mid-2000s, I very much interested in education advocacy. I was a public school teacher and involved in the Teacher Action Group and even served on Youth United for Change’s board for a hot minute. With so many of my friends still involved in public education, I follow the latest developments with the School District of Philadelphia, its state-run School Reform Commission, and the battle that parents, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and advocates have been waging against the powers that be. In a bold move, the SRC didn’t pass the budget, which violates the city charter that requires a budget to be passed by May 31. The often-criticized imperious leader, William Hite, and the SRC Chair, Bill Green, said they couldn’t pass another “Doomsday” budget that would lay off 800 teachers, balloon classrooms to up to 41 students, resulting from a $200 million cut. It was such a big deal even the Washington Post, calling Philly a guinea big for corporate education (since we’ve sold our souls to charter schools a long time ago), noticed how noteworthy this event was.
Philadelphia has numerous problems, and top on the list is education.
According to the New York Times, we aren’t just bad though. Apparently, we are “progressive” when it comes to gentrification. Coupled with our land bank and the Longtime Owner Occupants Program, it’s clear that Philly’s officials want to value and reward long-time homeowners. But, on the other hand, one of the reasons why Philly hasn’t gentrified like Brooklyn, for example, is because of the aforementioned problem. In general, our schools still stink.
Justice is always more complicated than it seems, otherwise the brilliant minds that have come before us would have solved it. If we are just waiting for it to be solved, Jesus save us. Economic justice isn’t my salvation, mainly because I can’t wait that long or vent that eloquently about it.
I was reminded about how complicated the question of gentrification when this article was circulated around Facebook the other day. I reposted it and noted that it was thought-provoking. My learned mentor, Rod, offered a great response to the piece. I have even more problems with it.
If our school get better, just like they did around the University City thanks to the Penn Alexander School, without a doubt the kind of gentrification West Philly experienced will occur all over town. Despite development in “hot” neighborhoods like Northern Liberties and Fairmount, one of the problems and reasons why the cost of living hasn’t sky-rocketed, isn’t just because of Philly’s progressive programs, it’s also because parents and families don’t stay living the area because the catchment for their children are schools that aren’t being funded with any sort of sense or compassion.
If you fix the school systems, the neighborhoods will get gentrified. I suppose the way that schools get funded, in addition to the choices of parents and families based on the opportunities, will always put poor, mainly of color, families in a bind. But the system is designed to oppress, not liberate. And that’s my beef, ultimately. That’s why I turn to Jesus and the Body in which he dwells, and our local expression of it.
I liked Rod’s response to the article I posted, he said: “I like the economic argument. But people need to reconcile, not just wait (or rant) for economic justice. Protecting or taking mine or yours is the same old reason to hate each other, isn’t it? You share because you love, not just because it is right. Our ministry is reconciliation.”
He’s right. We can vent, or rant, and even criticize the hipsters that are ruining our neighborhood (it’s really the one percent anyway). But if we don’t actually think about solving the problems in a way that considers everyone, they will be repeated. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the advocates, the political theory, and ideas that get worked out. I’m glad the SRC didn’t pass the unethical budget, and I’m thankful that we have a good piece of legislation in the land bank that will combat gentrification. But my hope isn’t there. If we are so concerned with being right, we’ll just have another war, as it were. And I actually believe that there are interests that want us to have a class war that results in more wealth and power acquisition for the richest people.
My solution is to form a community with Jesus and with each other. And to not just be an advocate for truth, but of love. That is the Law of Christ, and that is how I follow him. I think followers of Jesus, by definition, consider everyone and try to come to a Spirit-discerned consensus about how to solve problems. If we are all just grabbing for the bits of power the one percent offer us, we might be doomed. If you are either just against gentrification or for better education, that might be the end of the road. If you don’t think the solutions are more complicated than your freshman sociology professor taught you, we might be damned forever. The kind of justice that Jesus gives us is more lasting than that and I hope more sustainable too.