I want to thank you for joining me in my journey of cultivating a genuine relationship with the Philadelphia community in order to drive social change.
My name is Raheem Veal and I’m a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Urban Studies. I’m from Trenton, NJ, a city that is plagued by astonishingly similar struggles. Aggressive housing segregation, vast economic disparity, low educational attainment, and high violent crime rates are unfortunate commonalities between the two. These interrelated factors compound to create a combustible culture of violence in both places that is all the more detrimental.
The primary difference between these cities is their enormous disparity in size. Trenton’s area is about eight square miles, while Philadelphia is a massive 142 square miles. Those numbers are also reflective of the school districts’ discrepancy in size, with Philadelphia’s K-12 public school district serving 131,000 students and Trenton’s serving just under 8,000. Perhaps ones initial inclination would be to assume any two inner cities in America could be compared this way. However, their similar population density (11,102 in Trenton and 11,635 in Philadelphia) and close proximity indicate that learning about one can reveal insightful information about the other. Through my internship at PCCY (Public Citizens for Children and Youth) in Philadelphia, I will compile relevant data and explore applicable methods of education reform. By doing so, I hope to contribute to research that will improve outcomes for students in Trenton.
PCCY is a child advocacy nonprofit in Philadelphia that pushes for education policy that will enhance the welfare of children within the Southeastern Pennsylvania district. One of the organization’s greatest victories was their campaign that ended in SEPTA providing Student Transportation Passes at little to no cost for students. PCCY is currently promoting initiatives such as the Campaign for Fair Funding, Pre-K for PA, and the Picasso Project. Campaigns such as these aim to secure equal access to the resources that allow students to live and learn well. These people acknowledges that students living in poverty are more at risk and generally have more obstacles and forces acting against them; they are doing something about it. I’m honored and humbled to work for an organization whose mission is to ensure that each child is healthy, happy, and has a fighting chance.
Moving forward, my goal is to learn more about local politics. As a consumer of media, I have been taught to only pay attention to events and campaigns that get national coverage. However, state and local politics are much more impactful on one’s everyday life than anything decided in Washington outside of healthcare reform. I have already sat in on three City Council meetings and l have seen firsthand the tension existing between state and local levels of government. In the second meeting, Council President Darrell Clark became frustrated at various organizations pressuring the City Council to compensate the entire $105 million to close the school funding gap. Although these schools are technically in the council’s jurisdiction, the state department is also expected to take responsibility for closing this gap for schools; it has not done so.
In addition, the state has recently proposed a bill for funding prison expansion. The argument against the bill rightfully being that investing more in education will reduce the need for prisons. I even read that just a five percent reduction of the high school dropout rate for black males, the group being incarcerated most rapidly, would save enough annually to pay the deficit twice over. Politicians, often for the purpose of securing high approval ratings, habitually pursue short-term, quick-fix solutions. However, putting a Band-Aid on a wound that requires stitches and time to heal will only postpone the inevitable bloodshed. Perhaps Philadelphia and Trenton, friends with similar fates, are similar to the kids who walk out of classrooms and into broken homes. They both need help putting more pressure on their parents, the state, to act on their behalf.