Brittany Packnett delivered a powerful keynote address at Public Allies’ August 2016 National Leadership Institute, where she was presented with the Living Our Values award for her dedication to equity, social justice, and education.
“Listen intently to those who have most been affected by social injustice, and there is no way that you will not be forever changed,” said Brittany, Executive Director of Teach for America–St. Louis, a member of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and an organizer of Black Lives Matter.
Her keynote, delivered to hundreds of Public Allies leaders, staff, alumni, and Board Members gathered in Pittsburgh for the annual conference, followed Brittany’s own personal journey to hold on to hope in the face of so much injustice and inequity.
“I think of what a middle schooler in Ferguson said to me with no words at all,” said Brittany, recalling the Missouri city’s uprising after the death of Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer. “The first time I was tear gassed, I was standing next to this 8th grader. Running, I lost track of him. When I cleared my eyes and caught my breath and could finally function without pained sinuses or burning lungs, I went to look for him.”
When Brittany spotted him, she saw that he had wiped his eyes, picked up his cardboard sign, and walked right back out into the middle of the street.
“With his feet, he said ‘courage,’” she declared. “With his courage, he gives hope. With his hope, my feet follow his back into the street, back into the fight — feet firmly planted forever in the struggle for freedom, both his and mine.
“I won’t ever know his name. But he is my constant reminder that we always have and we always will be the ones we have been waiting for — and there is no age, no zip code, no race, no language or circumstance that will ever change that.”
Challenging everyone present to fight injustice and to stand with those most affected by it, Brittany’s final request to our network was a clarion call to each of us to live out Public Allies’ values:
“I’m asking us to move beyond charity and toward solidarity. I’m asking you to be good allies, but to be even better accomplices.”