In a speech delivered to Southern Methodist University in 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “for all too long we have had silent onlookers.”
He echoed the words of Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, who stated, “America must not become a nation of onlookers,” directly before King’s famous ‘I have a Dream’ speech in 1963.
Prinz defined those onlookers as people who “remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.”
On Monday, members of the Temple University and North Philadelphia community attended the Miseducation of an Ally, an event hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to discuss problems with silent onlookers that persist today.
The event fostered a dialogue on how to combat social systems of oppression rather than standing by. Participants reflected on experiences with advocacy, oppression and ways to practice allyship.
Jabree Belcher, a graduate extern in the Leadership Development Office and speaker at the event, defined an ally as someone who supports a person in an oppressed group. Belcher stressed the importance of allyship and added that he used to attend a predominantly white institution where he was ostracized for the color of his skin.
NuRodney Prad, the director of IDEAL and another speaker, said people often assume there is no need for ally-intervention in urban settings like North Philadelphia. He added that the diversity in the area gives off a false sense of security.
As a result, oppression can be unchecked in corners of Philadelphia. A 2017 opinion article in Philadelphia Magazine reported complaints of racism in the Gayborhood, despite being prided on its inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a result, the city required racial bias training in Gayborhood bars.
“[Being an ally is] not just what you do for others,” Prad said. “It’s working on yourself and making sure that you are aware.”
“If we continue to look to the side when injustice is occurring, what kind of society are we?” he added.
The audience broke into groups to discuss methods of being a good ally and wrote ideas on posters about how to speak out against injustice and understand privilege.
Danielle Whitesel, a freshman biology major, said she is an ally for people of color.
“One of my biggest things is really just butting into any nasty language or behavior,” Whitesel said, “Like, ‘Hey that’s not alright, let’s see what we can do different.’”
Jason Griffin, a real estate agent and investor in the Greater Philadelphia Area, said he uses his work to engage with different communities and advocate for them. He serves as an ally to people of various identities and neighborhoods in Philadelphia by teaching them how to invest in their area and maximize the value of their homes. Griffin attended the event with his daughter, who is a high school senior considering applying to Temple.
“I teach people how to invest,” Griffin said. “I may not be from that area but I can definitely help advocate for what people are doing in that area and try to bring more value to that area.”
Valerie Dudley, IDEAL’s Director of Multicultural Education, said that in order to be a good ally, people should be aware of not just their differences but also their similarities with others. She stressed the importance of allyship when reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and beyond.
“Being an activist and an ally is really important to keep movements going, especially the Civil Rights Movement,” Dudley said. “ You couldn’t have gotten far without allies also supporting the movement.”