“A Matter of Race, Ethnicity, Class and Neglect” was the title of my testimony at Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s June 7 Education Committee hearing.

I stated:

Once-thriving African-American neighborhoods have declined because of national/local, ongoing economic forces; historic government policies and ongoing neglect; and systemic, institutional racism that have produced a persistent 26% poverty rate in Philly — the highest among the 10 largest U.S. cities.

I provided the powerful voices of Kevin Davis (Strawberry Mansion High School) and Jaya Touma Shoatz (Mastery Charter-Shoemaker), two graduating seniors making observations about their city (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 31, 2019):

• Kevin mentioned inequities seen in his and other communities of color in comparison to white communities.

• He noted a lack of jobs “contribute to [the] poverty [they] live in” and called for “opportunities for internships and … jobs for teens ….”

• Jaya recalled seeing trash everywhere when walking her neighborhood with her dad.

• She realized these were symptoms of a prevailing “lack of self-worth that comes from living in communities of color … while many parts of Philadelphia are thriving.”

• She stated: “… my peers feel insignificant because they’ve been told — or seen through daily and long-term actions — that they matter less than other people.”

• She observed the impact of neighborhood gentrification: “… For a lot of people of color that means that once white people move in, their neighborhoods start to get improvements that longtime residents have never seen before … [signaling] … our pleas for change did not make a difference until white people were at risk of feeling the effects of the circumstances we’ve endured … too long.”

I concluded:

The situation is urgent and requires bold actions by the City of Philadelphia and School District of Philadelphia (SDP) that address and correct root causes of poverty — providing quality public education, employment, and community service solutions that empower residents and students in neglected communities.

I challenged:

• The SDP to provide authentic career and culturally inclusive curricula to grow our own city workforce by educating our own students and sending them to college or the “world of work” with concrete and soft skill sets required for success.

• And Philly’s city government to address ongoing neglect of minority communities by using its enormous socio-economic and political leverage “to influence” corporations, businesses and unions operating in Philly to train and provide apprenticeships/internships to seniors and post-high school students and to employ our high school graduates.

Catherine Blunt is a retired School District of Philadelphia educator

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