Councilmember-elect Isaiah Thomas on creating a new ideal for Philadelphia's youth with education
In his first term, the new at-large Councilmember-elect is out to break many unfortunate norms experienced by Philly youth on a daily basis.
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“I don’t know that my conditions aren’t ideal until someone shows me what it’s supposed to look like.”
These are the words that new, at-large Councilmember Isaiah Thomas shared with AL DÍA when discussing the dire situations many Philadelphia youth face in their schools and neighborhoods across the city.
Specifically, his answer came in response to a question about the recent discovery of asbestos in Franklin Learning Center, which shuttered the school.
As someone who is also heavily involved in youth sports in the city, Thomas admits that deteriorating and dangerous school building conditions are “no secret” for those who are in schools on a regular basis.
Thomas said that the conditions breed a concerning level of normalcy, especially for students.
“As a child growing up, you think it’s the norm because it’s your school that’s like this, it’s your friend’s school that’s like this, it’s your cousin’s school that’s like this,” he said.
On a bigger scale, it paints a picture for Philadelphia youth — the majority of whom are black and brown — of an indifferent city.
“They’re beginning to think that their city doesn’t care about them,” said Thomas.
That perceived disregard extends outside the classroom.
In the neighborhoods, Thomas says that same norm is seen in the way many black and brown youth interact with police.
On his visit to AL DÍA on Dec. 18, Thomas cited his own experience as a black man being racially profiled by police “at least three times” in 2019.
He can also remember being “aggressively” stopped and frisked by police growing up.
“I think when you’re born and raised in the city of Philadelphia, specifically men of color, we begin to think that’s the norm. That’s just how things are,” said Thomas. “And I just don’t think that should be.”
When he’s sworn in on Jan. 6, Thomas vowed to hit the ground running with a youth-centered agenda centered on education.
But it’s not education in the sense of traditional school, with books and homework.
Thomas was quick to point out that more could be done to show options in addition to college for those still in high school classrooms.
For one, to help ease the distrust between the police and youth, Thomas supports promoting the police department as a viable work option for high school seniors upon graduation.
“The only way we’re going to change the way police perceive people, is if those police are the same people from those neighborhoods,” said Thomas.
Thomas also wants to provide more mandatory civics, financial literacy, media literacy and tech classes for high school seniors.
The goal is to create a new norm for Philly youth that places value on civic engagement and entrepreneurship from an early age.