Terrill Haigler aka Ya Fav Trashman, looks to continue to beautify Philly on city council
The social media standout is looking to continue his activism on a larger scale.
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Social media sensation and activist Terrill Haigler, better known as Ya Fav Trashman recently announced a run for city council with the goal of continuing his activism efforts on a larger scale. Haigler, who rose through social media by chronicling life as a worker for the Philadelphia Sanitation Department, has grown in popularity and prominence in less than two and a half years.
In a recent sit down with AL DÍA News, Haigler gave more insight to his upbringing in the city and the impact of his mother on his life.
“I was in a semi rough neighborhood. I've seen gun violence, seen drugs, prostitution. I've seen all those things. But I was really blessed to have a mother who just had a way to deter me from getting into anything,” he said. “She put me in so many extracurricular activities that I didn't have time to be bad. I didn't have time to get into mischief because I was always doing something.”
Haigler was born and raised near Broad and Girard in North Philadelphia, but had friends in other parts of the city, along with the many activities he was kept involved in.
“I had a lot of friends who lived in South Philly. It was always an on the move type childhood for me and my sister. I'm used to having a busy schedule. That's how my childhood was. I met so many different types of folks and experiences. I’ve just been carrying it through my life,” Haigler added.
The city council hopeful did not always have his eyes on public service. Most of his life, he was a creative person who loved to dance, and started at age eight. Haigler attended Philadelphia’s Creative and Performing Arts High School and went on to study dance at the Freedom Theater, which focuses on original plays and dramas of African-American origins and traditions. He also worked behind the scenes at the Freedom Theater as well as teaching dance to children for a number of years.
“Dancing opened up so many doors and opportunities for me to do things ‘not normal.’ The training in dance does teach you a level of discipline, patience, and determination,” said Haigler.
Along with that, the African-American centered approach brought a lot of self affirmation for his place in the world.
“One of the affirmations I've been saying since I was four years old is that I respect myself. I have been saying that every single Saturday since the age of four. I have a foundation that I deserve to be respected. It's those things as a creative that have shaped me as an adult and why I'm able to mobilize, express, and relate to a lot of everyday Philadelphians because we all just want that respect that we deserve,” he said.
Haigler had professional aspirations in dance as well. As a late teen, Haigler danced in a Jill Scott music video that was shot in Philadelphia. He even went as far as auditioning and almost getting cast in a broadway adaptation of Spiderman. Over 2,000 other young men auditioned and he made it to the final three.
“There's so many things that I've auditioned for that I haven't gotten. But that doesn't mean I stop auditioning,” Haigler speaks on his foundation of self worth, “Keep auditioning you keep showing up, you keep pressing. We've been talking about getting Philadelphia clean and running for city council because this is just something that I'm going to keep pushing like we deserve clean streets, a cleaner city is a safer city and it is that persistence that keeps me that no matter what I'm going to show up.”
Before 2019, Haigler held down a number of jobs.
He got married and had three children and kept busy with teaching and other public service activities. He briefly taught dance within the city school district and then spent a couple of years at Penn Health as a floor technician all the while doing other environmental services. He then became a program coordinator at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, where he taught and led sports classes, personal training, and other ventures within the center.
Sanitation Department breakthrough
In late 2019, Haigler was finally hired by the Philadelphia Sanitation Department after waiting on a call back since 2017 when he first applied. He applied for the job because of its supposed great pay and benefits, which for a father of three, was a great opportunity. Unfortunately, once he was in, after thinking he would make north of $50,000 a year, it was actually closer to 30.
“Everything that glitters ain't gold,” Haigler said of his realization.
After starting the job on Dec. 30, 2019, by March 2020, life and work was completely different. Some of many things that went wrong as a consequence of the pandemic included trash pickup being late, people getting sick, which caused work problems. This, along with some surprising sights of trash on the streets, and illegal dumpings influenced Haigler to start chronicling his experiences on social media.
“My first three months look nothing like my last two years. We had a flow on the truck. I had a partner when COVID hit and I started switching partners, started shutting drivers, people were dropping with COVID. People were so angry in the city about the trash being late,” he said. “I just saw that there was a gap in communication between the streets department and residents so I started the Instagram to fill that gap.”
In June of 2020, Ya Fav Trashman was born.
Ya Fav Trashman to the Moon
The Instagram page became a space for Haigler to show Philly residents and people nationally what it is like for sanitation workers on the job during an unprecedented global pandemic.
While pointing out serious issues plaguing a city, he used comedy in his posts as well. Haiger noticed the lack in numbers and quality of protective wear such as gloves and masks. It reached a point where he said they had to use paper towels for masks. This became a serious issue for Haigler, as he lost his mother to an asthma attack during this time. It’s an illness most of his family suffers from.
The constant threat of COVID also kept him away from his family.
“I didn't see my kids for six weeks when the pandemic hit, from March to April. I would go because they live with my ex-wife and see them through a car window or glass door because I didn't know what I was bringing home,” Haigler said.
As a result, he began a fundraiser selling t-shirts in which the money would go to the sanitation department to buy better protective equipment.
His account and message caught traction quickly. In a little over four weeks, Haigler had raised over $40,000 for the department. It was a trend that the country invested in and helped. From this, his rise only continued to go up. He appeared on national television such as the Kelly Clarkson Show, ABC World News, and even co-hosted the Today Show live from NYC that helped in starting to significantly build up his platform that beautifying a city can help solve its other issues. Haigler was even invited by President Joe Biden to speak at the White House.
“For me, it's pushing home the message that no matter your zip code, you deserve a clean block. And that if we have cleaner blocks, we have safer blocks,” he said. “The trash is connected to food insecurity, to the homeless, to education, to public safety, to businesses, to taxes.”
The start of it is the beautification of Philadelphia, once we get that in line, everything else will be like a domino effect. So now we have a community and now people are going to treat their community differently because they raised the standard of this community,” Haigler continued.
With a strong activist-centered platform that currently has over 33,000 followers, Haigler has only continued his journey. After more than two years at the sanitation department, in 2021 Haigler launched his own company, Ya Fav Hauling, that has accounted for over 500 tons of trash pickup in Philadelphia. With that, he even published his own children’s book, I’m Cool Too, in part inspired by wanting to show his kids that he too is cool as a sanitation worker, and is also a tool for help.
“$5 of every book sale goes towards the school district. I'm trying to sell 200,000 books to raise a million dollars for the Philadelphia School District. Then I'll drop off a check for each and every school so there's 215 schools. Once I get to a million dollars, I'll drop off $4,600 to every school, and then we add $4,600 to every school's budget. That's a tangible outcome,” he said.
The voice for everyday Philadelphians
Adequate cultural representation in politics and city government is also missing. In part with other issues to tackle, that is something that Haigler hopes to bring to the table. Not just as a Black man, but also the working, everyday voice as well.
“Two years ago I was only making $30,000 throwing trash. There's a perspective that is missing when it comes to decision making on what's going to affect the everyday Philadelphian. That's where I feel we have a lack of perspective and people that really understand what the average, everyday Philadelphian needs. I want to be a working voice for everyday Philadelphians,” Haigler said.
Haigler announced his run for an at-large city council seat in the Democratic primary in the neighborhood he grew up in surrounded by life long friends and family. It is an important time in his life that has even influenced friends and family members to vote for what is the first time ever for some. But as the campaign just gets started, Haigler’s childhood neighborhood, and those around him is what means most.
“I'm never gonna forget where I come from, and I'm never gonna forget who was there and who lives there now. I'm never going to forget the community where I got my start. I wouldn't be your fav trash man without the support of Philadelphians, so I'm never going to not forget how I got to where I am today. That's another reason I want to sit on the seat at the table and make sure that every single Philadelphians taken care of,” he said.
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