Local teacher turned activist starts 'I Will Breathe' organization

Educator Christopher Bowman co-founded the "I Will Breathe" movement in Philly that was born out of last year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

"It became a matter of what will I tell my kids one day? Like, did I just stand by and watch or did I push for change? And I just couldn’t look myself in the mirror and stay in my room," said Christopher Bowman. Protests all over the city last summer drew hundreds of people, including 27-year-old Bowman. 

"It was passion there and everyone was there for a unified reason or a purpose," he said.  

Bowman quickly learned during a peaceful protest along Broad Street last June that even in this day there is still resistance to equality and justice.  

"We were arrested, tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, detained and processed."

Still, he refused to sit down or remain silent.  

"I couldn’t just let it sit and fester. I had to react and organize. I figured, if I could be one of those people in that crowd then I could be one of the people leading that crowd," said Bowman.   

"It was just beautiful to see anyone of any race like Black, white, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ plus. Everyone. It was just amazing."

He began organizing his own protests like this one he led from 61st and Locust to Malcolm X Park through West Philly. To date, he's organized about 10 of them.  

Bowman joins the ranks of other young black millennial men making history around the world. A leader in the Black Lives Matter cause, fighting for social justice and against police killings of unarmed black men.   

"I saw mothers just who saw themselves as George Floyd’s mom. I saw fathers who saw Breonna Taylor could be their daughter. I saw black parents who saw any man like Trevon Martin, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice could have been their son, brother, father. I just saw so much pain and rage and it was just a matter of trying to lead to manifesting it in a positive way."   

 He also co-founded an organization with his friend Nasir Bell. They named it "I Will Breathe" after hearing a woman at a Philly Resist protest suggest changing the "I Can’t Breathe" chant used in the justice for George Floyd movement.  

"All it’s done is speak into the world that we can’t. Meaning we lack the ability to breathe. But not only can we, but we will. So when she said that it kind of resonated with me," he said.

FOX 29's Shawnette Wilson also talked to Bowman about what he did and still does before becoming an activist.  

 "I am a 7th grade math teacher at Warren G. Harding Middle School," he said. 

"(What do your students think about, I don’t know how much they heard or saw your picture splashed on the front page of newspapers, on social media, um sometimes without a shirt) Right," laughed Bowman. Reflecting on a particular protest he organized at Temple University.  

"I want to show them that it is okay to be unapologetically who you are no matter what the setting is and just as you said I was running around like head wrapped, tied up in a shirt and shirt off. They were inspired and it was so humbling. They knew that I stood for something," he said about his students.

Looking from the rearview mirror now into 2021 he says, "Initiatives need to change, justice needs to take place and amendments need to be made as far as policies go. We believe that Black lives do matter and all lives can’t until Black ones do," he said. Bowman is excited to be a part of changing and making history.  

"I think out loud like wow. We really were out here and waking the city up and waking the world up. I felt free. I felt heard. I finally felt heard," said Bowman.  

His organization "I Will Breathe" oversees programs in two schools so far. Lower Merion High I Will Breathe started by three students and IWB Kings and Queens at Harding Middle. 


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