December 04, 2016
Councilwoman Gilbert's Speech
NAACP Youth Council Luncheon
Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,”
My mother raised me with the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. When I was 4, she thoroughly supported my non-existent ballerina career by purchasing a ballerina costume for me to prance around the house in. When we moved when I was about 6 years old, we went furniture shopping and she was fully supportive when I proudly announced to her that I wanted to be a furniture salesperson so I could sleep on the beds in the store all day.
Fast forward to 2012. I was entering my freshman year of college as an Elementary Education major at Wilkes University. I just finished a summer job at the YMCA where I supervised roughly 30 children under the age of 12, 5 days a week. After that experience, I was certain it took a special person to teach, and I was not that type of person.
I quickly changed my major to Political Science. I always loved politics, and my love for politics became even stronger after I was sworn into the Junior City Council in High School. President Obama was seeking his second term, and he was still igniting hope in so many Americans, just as he did four years prior. He inspired me to fully jump into public service to help the world.
As I alluded to earlier, my mother supported me through all of this. From ballerina to furniture salesperson to political scientist – she taught me that every career and job has its purpose, and that we all matter, and we can all change the world in our own capacities. My mother instilled in me how important it was to encourage youth to participate in whatever way we can. Politicians, teachers, and yes, even furniture salespeople, have the power to change the world. She taught me to appreciate every profession and have respect for everyone from the janitor to the CEO. She was the first person to show me that all lives matter and that we all can make a difference.
The lesson that all lives and people mattered continued throughout my high school and college career. My parents considered sending me to private school when I was entering high school. They then decided to send me to public school. I ended up attending GAR High School. As a white female from a middle-class family. I truly believe this was the best decision my parents could have made for me. During my formative years, I was surrounded by students from all different races, ethnicities, and religions – white, black, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian, Haitian, Jewish, Vietnamese, and a mix of all the above. I learned traditions from each of these religions and ethnicities at a fairly young age, and it made me a more well-rounded person.
I did not realize it then how incredibly important it was at the time to be taught not only on an academic level, but also on a cultural level.
In college, after the murder of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, and other unarmed, young, black men, I was infuriated. I worked with my fellow classmates at Wilkes to organize a Black Lives Matter protest. A group of roughly 15-20 students stood in the middle of the Student Union Building holding signs with various statistics regarding incarceration rates and facts regarding the black lives matter movement. We were completely silent throughout the protest, and simply stood there holding our signs.
I will never forget the amount of sheer animosity we were greeted with that day. I remember receiving looks that could kill and being shoved by some of my fellow classmates. I remember one student taunting us and then impulsively constructing his own sign on lined paper that read “White Lives Matter”. As one of the only white students in the Black Lives Matter protest, my first thought was – Of course white lives matter. All lives MATTER. That is not the question at hand. We are simply stating that black lives matter as well, and that we must do everything in our power to assemble and show people that we will not stay silent and allow an entire race to be silenced and oppressed. Young black men and women should not have to live in fear when a police officer approaches their car, or when they are walking down the street after picking up food from a convenience store. As a white student, I did not view this group as adversarial. I viewed us as one group working together to ensure equality under the eyes of law enforcement for all of us. Of course, all lives matter, I thought, but we need to know when to fight for the lives of those who need us the most at a certain point in time. We cannot be afraid to fight for groups that we might not necessarily belong to.
After the protest, I was quick to jump onto social media and see what other students were saying about the protest. I was disgusted and shocked by what some students were saying. I didn’t understand how people could be so close-minded. I tried to remind myself that not everyone is raised in the same circumstances, and that it can be difficult for people to accept and initiate change. I reminded myself that, even though some of these people were horribly offensive, they still mattered. We need not greet these types of people with hatred, we need to greet them with love, and show and explain to them exactly what we are fighting for. Yet again, we need to show them that we all matter, even though we may have different opinions.
I became even more active in my community after that protest. I was determined to do everything in my power to show the world that my actions mattered. As a young person, this can seem daunting. You feel like you have no voice, and that your actions don’t matter.
I decided to run for City Council. I love serving, and I love helping others, so public service was the perfect fit for me. I have friends who volunteered their time with non-profits, and I have friends going to law school to be civil rights attorneys. We all have the power to show the world that our actions matter in whatever capacity we can serve.
One of my goals in campaigning was to campaign in areas that were often forgotten about. I campaigned on every street and alley and knocked on every door in my district. I campaigned in Boulevard Town Homes and just took the time to sit at coffee tables and speak to those who so often felt neglected. I will never forget the looks on those peoples’ faces. Here I was, a 20 year old college student with optimistic goals about our city’s future but with no real power to implement them, sitting down to talk to these residents. Frankly, they did not care how little pull I had within our local government. They were just happy that someone was finally listening to their concerns.
There are a few common themes that I think are important to talk about here today. Those themes are communication, being uncomfortable, and formation. Each of these themes has its own important purpose in forming an inclusive community.
Communication is one of the most important aspects of forming an inclusive community. A vital piece of this is the relationship that a police department has with its community. Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. I commend the Wilkes-Barre Police Dept for their efforts in expanding community policing to form a better relationship with residents of the city from all different demographics. Seeing our police officers buy ice cream for kids during the summer or just pull over to play basketball with a young man might seem as though they are simple gestures, but they are really building relationships with the people of our city. It is an important reminder that all of our lives matter, and our actions matter.
Communication is not simply limited to the police department and their efforts. This is where the part of being uncomfortable comes in. By being uncomfortable, I mean purposely putting yourself in situations that you are not used to. Don’t be afraid to talk to people you would not normally talk to. Speak to people from different backgrounds, schools, economic classes, and careers. Don’t be afraid to put yourself into situations that challenge you. That is the only way you can help grow both yourself and your community.
Real change occurs when people are displeased about the state of something, often times a community or social issue. The formation or mobilization of a group to help combat these problems is an essential part of a community. If you see something happening in your community that you know is wrong, please do not stay silent. Do not be afraid to speak up for what you know is right. If you feel that you can’t stand up to something alone, or if the issue seems too large, form a group of like-minded individuals to help you. Alliances are the key to successful mobilization.
I never want any of you to question whether you life matters, is meaningful, or significant. All of your actions in this community matter. You are all young, but that does not mean you should stay silent. You each have a unique advantage because you are young. You have not let this world harden you, and quite honestly, you have the purest view of how our community should be.
I know that each member the NAACP Youth Council is going to go on and do amazing things – whether they be in the public or private sector. By being a member of this group, you are showing the community that you are not afraid to communicate or mobilize to stand up for what you believe in. Whether you go on to be teachers, lawyers, public servants, police officers, office managers, or yes, even a furniture salesperson, I promise you, you will substantiate change. God bless you, god bless the Wilkes-Barre NAACP and Youth Council, and God Bless our community.