PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jamira Burley is a West Philadelphia native whose anti-violence work with young people has been recognized by Forbes, Oprah Magazine, the White House, and most recently Amazon's Alexa.
On Thursday of this week, in 1/3 of American homes, if you asked Alexa "Who inspires you?" the response was: "I’m inspired by Jamira Burley, a social justice advocate who is making a big difference by working with young people."
For Women's History Month, the digital assistant is recognizing a different inspirational woman every day. Burley says she was somewhat surprised but pleased to be recognized.
“I didn’t know it got confirmed until someone posted the video. It was pretty cool to think about the fact that something that’s in so many people’s homes can have the ability to take my story and share it with a wider audience,” Burley said.
She’s proud of this latest accomplishment, but says her family keeps her humble.
"They said, 'You’re so narcissistic. I can’t believe you tricked Alexa to read this bio,'" Burley said jokingly. "It was a pretty cool moment of reminding myself that success [is about] those who you do the work for. While I’m able to share my story, there’s still so many stories of young people who are changing the course of their lives, but also the trajectory of their families and communities, because they care about the larger human rights struggle."
Burley’s accomplishments are a serious matter. Her ascension to becoming a household name, began in the early '00s when she was a high school student.
“When I was 15 years old, by that time I had experienced multiple members of my family in and out of incarceration. It wasn’t until the murder of my brother Andre, who was 20 years-old — he was shot and killed in Philadelphia — that I started to assume that I, as a young person, could actually do something about it," she said.
Burley started an anti-violence program at Overbrook High School with the support of school staff and her peers.
"That really trained high school students how to be violence interrupters and to be peer mediators for each other with the idea that young people know what’s going on. They have a clear understanding of how to influence their peers. So, what does it look like to put the power back into the hands of young people to create the environment in which they want to live and thrive?"
The efforts were a success. The program reduced gun violence at the school by 30%. Burley started to gain recognition. She was awarded a $50,000 grant by the governor to expand the program to 10 other Philly schools heavily challenged by gun violence.
"I think one of the things that was really transformative during my activism in Philly: Adults really took the time and the opportunity to give us back power. They gave us the resources, the budget, to be able to create solutions that we knew would work for our peers."
As city leaders currently struggle with record-breaking gun violence, which is affecting young people at an alarming rate, Burley reflected on what she felt helped her violence intervention plan work.
“I feel like a lot of the violence prevention conversation now looks at enforcement and punishing students. I think we forget that young people and people in general are walking around with so much unpacked baggage, and we’re not taking the time to really help them navigate that and unfortunately, oftentimes it shows up in violence,” she explained. "Hurt people hurt people."
Almost 20 years later, her mission has taken her message of empowerment and advocate for young people from West Philly to more than 30 countries around the world.
“I’ve now expanded the work that I do to look at more systematic problems. Access to resources like education, health and wellness, and jobs and opportunities for communities of color,” she said. “Now I work for a global organization that’s sole purpose is to ensure that young people around the world, whatever ZIP code, whatever village they live in, they have access to one of the most basic human rights like education.”
Thanks to years of dedication, and technology like Alexa, her story and inspiration have reached ears and hearts far beyond the City of Brotherly Love.