In Philly, across race, class lines, a search for solutions to the city’s biggest challenges

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — When people of color suffer from poverty and gun violence, white people are not interested in solving those issues, a Philadelphia elected official says.

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

“You can’t address poverty and you can’t address gun violence until you address the elephant that’s in many of these rooms,” Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, “and that’s the fact that people don’t care about poverty or gun violence because it’s Black and Brown people are being shot.”

Harris, the state House’s second-ranking Democrat, touched on the lack of racial equity around solving city challenges during a panel discussion on Friday hosted by the Chamber of Commerce for a Greater Philadelphia.

The panel was convened to suss out the raft of issues confronting Philadelphia — gun violence, poverty, affordable housing, the opioid epidemic, and access to quality education and healthcare.

The Creating Safe and Healthy Communities in Philadelphia Forum included Harris; Danielle Brooks, director of health equity at Amerihealth Caritas; Dr. Elizabeth Datner, head of the emergency department at Einstein Healthcare Network; Dr. Raynard Washington, head epidemiologist for the city’s Department of Public Health; and Abraham Gutman, an opinion editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Charles Ellison, a WURD radio host, moderated the panel discussion at the Ronald McDonald House in West Philadelphia.

Gutman suggested Philadelphia businesses and universities adopt strategies from other cities, like Chicago, to tackle gun violence.

The Illinois city has significantly reduced its homicide rate in recent years by raising $75 million from local businesses and organizations to fund a unified strategy, which included providing social services and jobs to the small percentage of individuals driving violence.

“We have that money and resource in Philly,” Gutman said.

Washington added that private sector businesses in the city were not doing their part to help city government reduce gun violence.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a coalition of foundations and universities and businesses that have come together … with us,” he said.

Another “missing piece” that hindered groups and organizations from better addressing city challenges, like the opioid epidemic, was a lack of a unified approach, Datner said.

“You’re chasing the shiny penny and not developing a comprehensive, unified approach so we can all work together in this city,” she said.

The city’s approach to reducing gun violence also lacked a coordinated plan, especially when it comes to state funding that supports programs, Harris said.

“Everybody’s doing their own thing,” he said, adding, “but the fact is that you have three and four organizations doing the same exact work and there’s not coordination around that.”

The forum was part of the chamber’s Roadmap for Growth, which brings together business leaders, organizations and others to address social issues around community health.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared