Director, Counseling Center
Isaac Scott’s powerful photograph of protesters lying down on the steps and ground outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of my favorites by the artist. Evoking a mix of reactions, it is an intricate snapshot of a moment in time. My eyes are drawn to explore the countless details: the myriad bodies packed into the space, the protesters’ clothes, the objects they carry, the masks and bandanas with which they have covered their faces, what they’re doing with their hands. As a psychologist, I am also drawn to wonder about their identities, their stories. What can be discerned about their ages, their ethnicities, their gender identities? Beyond that, what are their personal histories and what compelled each of them, individually, to be present for this moment?
Of course, understanding the individual is important, but it is only part of the story. The protesters have come together to convey a unified message—to their city, to their country, and to the world—that Black Lives Matter. They are protesting racism, hatred, brutality, and the horrific devaluing of the very existence of their Black peers, friends, loved ones, and selves. Will the message finally be received? Will the glacial pace of change pick up steam? Will a critical mass finally be reached, pushing our society and our institutions to re-examine the past, address centuries of injustice, and take bold steps to ensure a better future?
So many questions.
Yet, for me, the strongest reaction this photograph evokes is a feeling of hope. As a middle-aged person, I look around the crowd of protesters and I see so many younger people hungry for change. I see a generation passionate about righting wrongs and creating a more inclusive and just United States. I think about my own life and reflect on my three children, now in their late teens and early twenties. I see how much they care about what is going on in the world and in their local communities. I hear them talk about injustice and see them take action to try to effect change in those around them.
My children and I speak about these topics frequently now: they have become woven into our everyday lives, and I am immensely thankful for that. The isolation of working and studying from home these last several months has also come with a remarkable opportunity for deeper engagement with my family. I am continually impressed by how well informed my children and their peers are, by the depth of their empathy and determination, and by how loudly they let their voices be heard. I grow and learn from listening to and talking with them. And, most critically, I feel inspired to do more, to say more, and to intervene when my own upbringing urges me to keep quiet. Time and again, I am moved to reflect on my own assumptions and privilege as a white cisgender man and, in turn, have initiated more uncomfortable conversations with others. I know it’s not enough, and I know the changes we need to make are immense. However, I look at the protesters lying on the ground in front of an art museum, and I look at my own children, and I feel certain we can do it. And that makes me hopeful for all of us, and for the world my newborn granddaughter will grow up in.