Where’s The Love, Philadelphia? is excited to continue our work this year with new additions to the team! A committed group of (mostly) freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have filled several roles in our organization on the writing, design, and marketing teams. Read below to learn about why each of our new members decided to join WTL, what they heard about Philadelphia before coming to the city, and their impressions from their time here.
Ajibola Bodunrin: I joined WTL, because I could not comfortably sit on University of Pennsylvania’s campus knowing that just a few blocks away people are suffering. I want to hear the stories of the real citizens of Philadelphia and share them, so they could hopefully become a catalyst for positive change. I want to be an ally and allow the people who are actually experiencing gun violence in Philadelphia to have a platform to tell their stories.When I first got to UPenn, a lot of people of people told me to be careful if I'm past 43rd Street in West Philly because of crime. However, since I have been here and and past 43rd I see a neighborhood full of good people who have be affected by systematic oppression and need to be heard.
Chelsea Gardner: I was born in Trinidad, and the neighborhood where I lived has a high crime rate due to the prevalence of gun violence. Hearing about someone who was killed by a gun was normal to me at a very young age. I joined WTL because a community marred by gun violence should not be anyone’s reality, and I think that WTL’s unique, multimedia approach is sure to call attention to this issue. Before coming to Penn, I heard from Penn students that West Philly is a dangerous neighborhood. I also listen to Philly artists such as Meek Mill, and when he raps about his life in Philly, he paints a violent image. While West Philly may have a high crime rate, I think that the people in the community are positive and optimistic overall about improving the community.
Benjamin Finkel: I joined WTL because I hope to use videography and documentary to create positive change in the Philadelphia community. I’ve lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia all my life, so my image of the city hasn’t changed from just going to Penn. However, since I have met people at school from different parts of the country and the world, I have become aware that Philadelphia is often seen as a dangerous city. Within the Penn bubble, it’s easy to assume it’s unsafe to venture beyond 50th street. While crime and gun violence are complex and pervasive issues, they don't define the communities of Philadelphia. It’s the individuals who live in these communities that define them, and that’s one of the reasons why documentation, community outreach and civic engagement are so important — to raise awareness not simply of the violence itself, but the stories of the people affected.
Britney Firmin: I decided to join WTL because I believe that this organization will allow me to both connect with and explore the differing environments of the West Philadelphia area. Stepping outside of the Penn bubble will allow me to get in touch with the narratives, stories, and distinct histories of residents that may often be overlooked and even underappreciated. In particular, police brutality and gun violence are two social justice issues that I am fairly passionate about. Being part of WTL enhances my awareness about the detrimental effects of gun violence and allows me to connect with individuals who can offer perspectives on how violence has affected their lives. I want to explore the more personal and intimate perspectives of community members and allow them to share their unique and distinct stories. Before coming to Philadelphia and attending Penn, I didn't necessarily have my own pre-conceived notions on what West Philadelphia is truly like in terms of the environment and community atmosphere. The common notion that I tend to hear is that West Philadelphia is an especially "unsafe" and "dangerous" area, but so far these assertions have not yet compared with what I have seen so far. I hope to further explore the many communal characteristics of this new environment over the course of this year, and understand the reasoning behind the negative stigmas attached to West Philadelphia.
Myrabel Gbe: I decided to join WTL because I wanted to be involved in an organization that would allow me to reach out to communities outside of Penn’s campus. While gun violence has never directly affected me, I think it is important to make an effort not to ignore this issue-- although that can be very easy to do when going to a school like Penn. I feel that it is necessary to try to provide a platform for people to share their stories and talk about the effects that gun violence has on them because they may not be able to do so otherwise. Anytime I heard about Philadelphia back in Maryland, the topic would concern food, tourist attractions, entertainment or sports. Thus, coming into Penn, I had never even considered the violence occurring a few blocks away. While I knew that gun violence was a problem in Philly, as it tends to be in a lot of cities, I also knew that I would be relatively safe on campus. Since I’ve been at Penn, I haven’t noticed a major difference between my hometown in Silver Springs, Maryland and West Philly.
Noa Jett: Gun violence is an issue that has affected my life, and I am passionate about it. I was drawn to WTL because of the unique way it brings UPenn students together with the West Philly community. I like how the focus is on learning about the experiences of community members and how art is incorporated into activism. Before I arrived on campus, I had heard a lot of stereotypes about West Philly. I heard that it was dangerous and that I shouldn't go too far off campus. I participated in a pre orientation program before the semester began and was able to go into West Philly with the program. We met with several community groups and learned more about the area. I really enjoyed getting to know residents and hearing their stories. Since I have come to campus, I have not felt unsafe. I am eager to explore and learn more about the neighborhood and WTL is a great opportunity to do that.
Mikayla Mitchell: I decided to join WTL as a way to learn more about the community that surrounds where I live and the issues that plague its residents, such as gun violence. I wanted to join a club that would allow me to step outside of the Penn bubble and truly learn about the city of Philadelphia, not just the sections of University City and Center City. Before coming to Penn, I didn’t really hear much about Philadelphia, besides the fact that I should stay away from North and West Philly. As I’ve explored other parts of the city, the stereotype that West Philly is extremely unsafe and crime-ridden seems to be a little untrue. West Philly actually reminds me of some parts of New Jersey and I think more people should explore it to remove that negative stereotype from their conscience.
George Porter: I joined WTL because it is one of the few student organizations at Penn that emphasizes community involvement. Interacting with people in West Philadelphia, as WTL does through its interviews and events, is the only way to work towards improving the lives of people in West Philadelphia. It’s a simple principle that many groups with noble causes overlook. I was also drawn to the humility of the organization's mission. I admired WTL's philosophy of letting victims of gun violence speak for themselves instead of having college kids speak on their behalf. Although I’m from a city with an enormous gun violence problem of its own, gun violence has never affected me personally. Gun violence isn’t an indiscriminate menace: those who perpetrate it and are victimized by it tend to be an extremely small part of a city’s population. That’s how I figured things were in Philadelphia, too. I knew there was plenty of violence here, but I assumed it was happening far away in North Philly and wasn’t really my problem. In reality, many West Philly neighborhoods are among the most violent in the city. Learning this didn’t scare me, but it did make me take WTL’s mission more seriously. It’s harder to turn a blind eye to a problem like gun violence when it affects people so frequently in such close proximity to you, even if it tends to happen in neighborhoods you don’t usually find yourself in.
Alexandra Schanne: I joined WTL after hearing about it from my roommate. It really spoke to me, after living close to Philly all of my life and spending so much time in the city. All of my life, I have always heard about people dying in my home, and it makes me ashamed that some people are so scared of the city that I love because of the bad reputation we have when it comes to guns and violence.
Maria Gonzalez Senac: Where's the Love, Philadelphia was not at all what I was expecting to find at UPenn as an exchange student. When I first saw the pictures and website for WTL, I was amazed by how a group of students could raise awareness on a topic that has harmful effects in US society. Coming from Europe, I heard in the news, every once in a while, reports about shootings in the US. This has always struck me as paradoxical, since the US prides itself on being the "role model" for the rest of the world. I want to learn more about how US citizens feel about gun violence and see how people live outside of the "Penn bubble.”
Jazmyne Smith: I'm from Kansas City, Missouri where gun violence is a part of our daily lives. Recently, Kansas City was ranked one of the seven most deadly cities. Unsurprisingly, Philadelphia was also on this list. At home I participated in a teen radio show where we often raised awareness about issues relating to violence. I chose to join Where's The Love Philadelphia because I want to continue to help give a voice to those affected by it and create a much needed change.
Jammil Telfort: I joined WTL because I wanted to get involved within the greater Philadelphia community in an area that I have not been previously involved in. While I am aware of the severity of gun violence in our country, I know little about this issue in Philadelphia. I think it is important for me to stretch myself and become a giving member of this community since I will be getting so much from it over the next four years. Before coming to Penn, I heard very little about West Philadelphia in particular. I was told that Philadelphia is a great college city overall and that I would enjoy living there. However, I do remember one particular teacher of mine telling me that this area was very dangerous when he used to live there. Since I’ve been at Penn, I hear a lot of people saying that anything past 40th street is an off- limit zone. Students at Penn seem to be afraid of even stepping a block off campus. While I have heard of some crime in the nearby area, I just have not seen enough to make me believe that West Philly is as dangerous as some of the Penn community makes it seem.
Toni Walker: I joined Where’s The Love, Philadelphia? because I want to be a part of an organization that engaged in real conversation with the city of Philadelphia about the issues they face. I want to get testimonies directly from community members and explore the solutions that they have to offer. Before coming to Penn, I hadn’t heard much about specific issues that Philadelphia is facing. However, after spending time here, I realize that Philadelphia faces issues such as gun violence, city gentrification, and a poor public school system.
Arianna White: I joined Where’s the Love,Philadelphia? because as a college student at the University of Pennsylvania, I wanted to connect with the community outside of the campus. I also wanted to make a difference in the community by contributing to a platform for people in West Philly to talk about how gun violence has affected them and to spread awareness about the effects of gun violence. Before coming to Philadelphia, I didn't know what to expect because I lived in the suburbs all my life. I haven't explored the city a lot yet, but from what I've seen I love it already. The city is beautiful, the people are nice, and there's always something to do.