Determined not to be intimidated by white nationalists, they responded to neo-Nazi flyers with declarations of love and inclusivity.
Determined not to let their community be intimidated by white nationalists, Jenks students and many of their parents responded to neo-Nazi flyers that were plastered on light poles up and down Germantown Avenue on Wednesday with declarations of love and inclusivity.
Thursday afternoon and Friday morning they poured out their messages in brightly colored chalk on the concrete pavement of the school’s playground and the sidewalk below it: “Love > Hate,” “PEACE,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
It was just the second day of the school year.
Police are investigating the incident, which is the third time stickers like these have appeared on streetlights and telephone poles in the Northwest Philadelphia region since April of this year. The Chestnut Hill Business District sent a crew to remove them on the morning that they appeared.
The school’s principal, Corinne Scioli, first heard about the reappearance of racist stickers from several members of ‘Jenks Dads on Duty,’ a group of fathers who greet students every morning as they’re dropped off by their parents to make sure they get into school safely.
The news put a damper on the otherwise joyful atmosphere of welcoming kids back to the classroom, said Scioli, who immediately notified police and school district administrators.
“The contrast in our celebratory spirit of welcoming back our students on Tuesday with what we faced on Wednesday was heartbreaking,” she said. “I sent out a communication about the incident to our families moments later, and within a few hours our community of parents and their children rallied in unison to promote peace.”
Randal Green, a 1987 graduate of the school and the father of three Jenks students – one who’s in fourth grade and two who have already graduated – wasn’t surprised to see the school community’s reaction.
“Knowing what kind of community this is, you knew that the response would be a good one,” Green said, “and that the people would rally around the idea of making sure that the kids are OK and that they have a safe environment to learn and grow.”
Students left their messages of love and peace in two locations – along the Germantown Avenue sidewalk and on the playground in the rear of the school.
Jenks fifth grader Amya Watson, who wrote out the words “LOVE YOU BE YOU,” said she wanted to “turn it around and make it positive.”
“It means to be yourself and don't let nobody tell you different,” Watson told the Local.
Fifth grader Autumn Heath’s message read “BE KIND.”
“The flyers didn't seem nice - it felt mean,” she told the Local, adding that she thought the intent was to send a message that Jenks was only for white children.
“But it's also for Hispanics, Mexicans, Blacks, whites,” she said. “[Your race] doesn't really matter. You can be anything.”
Jayla Burnett, who teaches first grade at Jenks, was impressed by the students' reaction.
“To me, it is showing that they can overcome those obstacles at that young age,” she said. “It also shows bravery to rebel against those kinds of hateful comments. I think it shows the Jenks family is stronger.”
Burnett said she was particularly proud that the school’s reaction was swift and without anger.
“It was 'OK, if that's what you're going to throw at us, this is what we're going to throw back,’” Burnett said. “The school wasn't in a frenzy – we addressed it quickly and swiftly, and I think they did a pretty good job with the community and the parents.”
Parents interviewed by the Local agreed.
“The administration here does a really great job of letting us know anything and everything that has happened in keeping our children safe,” said Janan Ashton, who is the parent to a pair of Jenks twins. She used the flyers as a teaching moment for her children, Autumn and Brian.
“I've always told them that people aren't always kind,” Ashton said. “They thought things like this only happened in certain places, whether it was more in the city or down South. They were upset, but they're 9, so they still wanted to be happy because these people have not hurt us.”
For the entire school community, driving out hate with love was the central theme.
“Immediately, our response to anything against Black Lives Matter is to infuse it with love and power,” said Roberta Frempong, parent to a Jenks kindergartener, Ashe, and fourth grader, Selah. “What better way to do it than to write opposing letters from the children's perspective, and us as parents and students supporting them? Let them know that this is a community where we all belong and that all lives matter, but especially Black lives because this is a world where Black lives at one point didn't matter.”
For Briana Capron and her third grader Saamira, Friday morning made them feel welcome.
“We're very much drowning out the negative with the positive,” Capron said. “I like how they have it right here on the street, so when you walk up to the school, you can see it. I just think it's amazing.”