Gucci, Chanel, Versace, Balenciaga, these are all names of designer brands that my students believe are the key to prove you have success. They believe if they have these brands they have “money” and they will be viewed by their peers as having status. Seeing the glorification of material possessions inspired me to pose a question one day in class. I asked “when you buy these brands, where does the money go”? My student’s looked puzzled and said “it doesn’t matter, I look good”. It made me smile because I was given the opportunity to teach about something that I am passionate about, community based economics. I asked the students if they see any of these stores in their neighborhoods they live or if these brands did anything to make Philadelphia a better place. One of my students responded “they aint coming to the hood” another student responded “then why are you buying from them?, they don’t care about you, you can spend your money here and help someone get a job”! A single tear fell from my eye, I am exaggerating but I was excited for my student to elaborate. During my six years of teaching I have come to realize that teenagers learn better from their peers. This student was an expert at this topic, which was an added bonus. She prompted the class by asking them if any of them know anyone who got someone else a job. The majority of the students raised their hand. She then stated, “if we bought things from where we are from then we could get jobs on our own because there would be more of them”! The students looked over to me to see if I agreed. I let them know that when you spend you money on these brands, that are headquartered outside of our community, the money goes to them and it never makes it back to the community. When you spend money in your neighborhood or hire someone in your neighborhood, more people will have money in your neighborhood. That money can be used to make your community a safer and more prosperous place. When people have a vested interest in the good of the community, the community will improve over time. It puts the control of the community back in the hands of the people. Poverty is such a big issue in our city and it will not improve just because the national average income is improving. After school the students who are a part of We Love Philly were eager to research if any businesses in Philadelphia followed this model. We came across the African Cultural art Forum.
The African Cultural Art Forum(ACAF), located at 221 S 52nd street in West Philadelphia, has continuously served Philadelphia since 1969. When I use the word serve, I mean that in every aspect of the word. They sell products that are locally sourced and provide free hands-on job training and education. In turn trainee’s usually end up producing products for them and they share in the profits. These people then have an incentive to stay in the community and continue the cycle with future generations. ACAF also organizes community events to give start up entrepreneurs a chance to meet people in the community and build trust with prospective customers. These bonds seem to last a lifetime based on the interactions we witnessed when we volunteered for them.
We recently volunteered for a community art festival host at the ACAF. The love among the volunteers who were there when we arrived was evident. In just a couple of hours we were able to set up for the entire event and interact with locals. There was a DJ, free art classes, a Masseuse, a sewing workshop, and other activities for young children. Everyone donated their services for free which resulted in creating stronger bonds with their neighbors. If you’re interested in learning more check out the newest episode of The We Love Philly Podcast where we sit down with their Event Coordinator Kamara Abdur-Rahim at the top of this page. Also check out our volunteer video below to see how much fun you can have volunteering!