Busy Philipps is known by her 1.9 million Instagram followers for having one of the silliest, most spontaneous and even stylish feeds on the platform. But the 40-year-old actress, author and former talk show host is also known for being authentic and even outspoken on her social media feeds about causes that she’s passionate about.
Throughout her years of fame and growing popularity, Philipps hasn’t been afraid to use her voice, such as this summer when the mom of two defended her right to an abortion at age 15 in front of Congress. But most recently, the former Cougar Town star has been using her clout to spotlight an issue that’s perhaps less personal, but equally important: underserved teachers.
Philipps has specifically zeroed on the lack of resources plaguing classrooms nationwide. In a Yahoo Lifestyle survey of over 50 former public school teachers, 55 percent said they spent between $500 to $1,000 of their own money each year to purchase school supplies. To combat that cost, and help fill in this gap, Philipps started featuring teachers on her Instagram during back-to-school season and linking to their Amazon wish lists so that followers could purchase select supplies.
Her efforts are a part of a larger trend that has taken off on social media with the hashtag #clearthelist. But before the 2018-2019 school year, Philipps was one of the first to bring light to the cause with her own hashtag #10featuredteachers. Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with the actress and activist about what inspired her to join the cause — and why she hopes others will follow suit.
Yahoo Lifestyle: When did you start using your platform to help teachers buy school supplies?
Busy Philipps: Well I did this a year ago, and the impetus behind that was my friend Ed Droste, from the indie band Grizzly Bear. He had a good friend who was a public school teacher in New York who was really struggling and came up with this idea to just post people on Instagram. [Droste] also has like a large social media following, and he reached out to me and was like, would you do this? And I said, of course. I think that it's a brilliant idea to sort of crowdfund for individual teachers because I do think that we're at a point where people get very overwhelmed by all of the things that need to be fixed in this country.
You use your voice for so many causes. Why did teachers become one of the issues you wanted to “fix”?
I think that look, we're at a very particular time in history but also in this country and I do feel like people with large platforms should step up and engage in causes that they care about. There are so many and it can feel very overwhelming to people. But my focus has always sort of been helping those in my community, but specifically kids.
Obviously a lot of that was sparked when I became a mom. But you know, I understand fundamentally the chain reaction that happens when children who live in an underserved community and then are not given the same chances and the same opportunities as kids, like the kind of kid I was ... which is privileged. We have to be able to balance that out.
I feel that we as citizens and just humans need to support teachers. There's obviously a huge hole where our government has failed our kids and our teachers and our communities. And I know that people get very indignant that it shouldn't be our job to do this. But the fact of the matter is, it is our job. We elected people, you know what I mean? Like, you put people in office that didn't make education a priority, so now it's up to you to try to help balance it out.
How do you think #clearthelist harnesses social media to achieve this?
When people feel as though they've had a direct impact on someone, they are more likely to step up and continue to find ways to do that. And so this is a very direct way. You're not donating money to a school. You're not donating money to a school district or a charity where you don't really understand the money flow. You're literally helping a teacher in a classroom and their students. I think that that gets people motivated. Plus everyone's on Amazon all day long buying s***. You might as well just like throw some stuff in your cart for a teacher.
You mentioned your daughters —Birdie, 11, and Cricket, 6 — before. What conversations have you had with them to make them more aware of issues like this and the importance of recognizing their privilege?
There have been a lot of opportunities to have discussions with them about what we can do for those around us, what we can do for people who live in our city, for people who need some help. And I think it's a process. It's a conversation that you have to keep having because you know, [Birdie]’s 11 now, so her ability to understand the world is shifting.
Birdie said “I don't think college is necessary, I don't think that you have to go to college,” And I said, well, yeah, that's probably true for you because you're a privileged white girl. For a lot of people, higher education is a real way out of poverty and an opportunity to have a different kind of life ... I was like you have to understand that for a lot of people it is not just necessary — it is like everything. And real education is the way out and you can't lose sight of that or ever take that for granted.
What kind of impact have your efforts made on both the students and teachers?
One of the things that always sort of gets me is when the packages start arriving to the teachers and they'll send me photos of the kids like opening the boxes of books and the new school supplies. And when you think about ... oh god I'm gonna start crying. But when you think about dignity and what it means for someone to have new stuff ... It's not just giving someone like your old used ratty binder, you know, it's giving a kid brand new school supplies, a brand new book that has a character that looks like them in it. Like these are the things that make an impact on people when they feel seen and when they feel appreciated and when they feel like they aren't invisible. And I think that people living in poverty in our country are treated as though they are invisible and it's a disgrace. And so to see the kids and the teachers who are working so hard to make these kids feel seen, to see them have the reaction that strangers around the country have sent them new school supplies and new backpacks and new pencils and all of the stuff. I mean, I don't know. That's kind of everything, you know?
I think that visibility is important and I think that we all know social media can be sometimes the worst, but in cases like this and things like this, it can really be the best. I would hope that teachers and school districts and schools and parents like all get as creative as they can and continue to be as creative as they can in terms of involving community, the communities around them in helping. Whether that's an actual physical community around them or an online community around them. You know, I don't see it being a thing that's gonna end. I do think that, again, like I said, we're at a really specific time in the history of our country and in the world right now. I do think that we're all going to have to start to, and then continue to take responsibility and participate in making things better for everyone. Not just ourselves.
I mean, you’re doing an incredible job at bringing them that visibility.
What I'm doing is like legitimately like baseline easiest s*** of all time. So like let's not give me too much credit, you know what I mean? Like I started an email address and I am posting people on my Instagram to my 2 million followers and then their Amazon wishlist gets cleared. And like it's in between hot selfies of me. You know what I mean?
It's just, I feel a great deal of responsibility for trying to figure out ways to ease the burden on those around me in this country who are doing their best, who are working hard, who are trying to make a better life for themselves and for their children. And I want them to know that they're seen and supported and that there are plenty of people who want them to succeed. There are more good people, I believe, than bad. The problem is the bad ones are really loud. And so the good ones now have a responsibility to be even louder.
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