Keith Bolden cares deeply about the well-being of his city, Philadelphia. He’s spent almost his whole life in the Northeast part of Philly, and understands the harsh realities of what it means to grow up in the city. However, he also sees the nuances and the hope within the city.
As a freshman in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Keith points out that he’s attending a rich university in a poor city. He’s noticed that many of his classmates write the city off as dangerous and won’t venture off of campus, often perpetuating a sense of Penn separate from an undesirable“other.” Keith, though, is a part of that other and will not let his classmates write him, or his city, off.
Currently concentrating in Social Impact and Responsibility at Penn, he one day wants to become an entrepreneur and use his influence to economically stimulate the city and to help alleviate the many issues that Philadelphia faces.
An Inevitable Lifestyle
“You can go to [any] neighborhood in the city, not everybody's gonna be the same. You have the people that’s street dudes that's going to be on the corner. That’s just how they are. But … there’s different kids everywhere, so you've got the street guys, you've got these kids that just hoop, play sports, and people that's just on the corner, you got your just regular people, and you might have your few kids that are like ‘I’mma do well in school.’ Everybody kind of gets their own lane, but sometimes they'll all come back to the streets.
“It's hard dealing with that in your psyche where you know, ‘I made it to this university and I go here,’ but in one second my life could be gone. I could be that kid in the newspaper like ‘Yeah, everything going for him,’ and then he got shot. There's always something that you got to worry about in a way.”
Penn vs. Philly
“The people here at Penn don't know nothing about Philly. They don't have no idea, they're just like, ‘Oh it's dangerous.’ Because Penn isn't West Philly. People from Philly don't consider Penn West Philly, they consider it University City.
“The way they built the University, and the way they built the borders of the University, it's a clear distinction once you cross a certain block that this is Penn’s campus and this is West Philly. A clear distinction just off the way the houses look, because Penn stops cleaning after a certain block. So, you'll go to the rest of West Philly and it’ll look dirty.
“It's like Penn isn't present throughout the rest of the city as much as they probably should be, being such a big university. People don't come down here unless they're going to the movies on 40th Street or they want to go to Qdoba ... or something. You could tell somebody you go to Penn and they would think you go to Penn State when they're from [Philly], and they live five blocks from the University. There's not much engagement - you don't ever know anybody that goes to that school.
“A lot of people don't really pay [Penn] no mind because Penn doesn't really pay you no mind. [Penn is] starting little initiatives and they've been doing certain things, but overall-impact-wise [beyond] just people knowing … ‘Penn does this,’ a lot of people in the city don't know.”
“It's definitely a reality. It's the reality more in some places than others, but it's definitely a dangerous city. It's always been on those top 10 lists of the most dangerous cities in America, it’s always been high murder rate. The murder rate's been going down, actually. But it's still dangerous city.
“You always gotta be weary. You might get mad, start snapping. You might fight this guy, but he’s not about to fight you, he's about to walk to his car. Sometimes what's crazy is it might be in your best interest to take an L. You might fight somebody, and it would be in your best interest to lose because if you win, then they gonna come back and shoot you cause people not taking no L's.
“Just being around the neighborhood you hear gunshots, you see people shooting guns. Like, my father passed away from gun violence, and I know [people] that died from gun violence. I know a lot of people with guns. Having guns is just much more regular for younger people now. People don't fight no more. You just shoot people.
“The preconceived notions that it's dangerous [are] true, but [Penn students] look at it as like a whole different world. [There are] good people here, but they kind of look at the people past a certain block as like ‘those people.’
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February 2017 | Interview and Text by Ajibola Bodunrin and Myrabel Gbe | Portraits by Alexander Atienza