Why I Support Anthony Williams

Sen. Anthony H. Williams

Some of you know my story. I tell everyone that I am a mission driven attorney with a combination of cross-functional experience in law, government, and nonprofits. I’ve dedicated my career to fighting poverty, strengthening communities, and ensuring equal opportunity for all Philadelphians. In essence, I consider myself a community leader in both my professional and personal endeavors.

I grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia with 14 siblings. My story was featured in Chicken Soup for the African American Soul. My story is unique and was in large part made possible through the vision of Anthony Hardy Williams more than 20 years ago. Twenty years ago Anthony Williams did not know me. Nor did I know him. In 1995 when I was just 16 years old, I attended one of Anthony Williams’ Youth Leadership Summits in West Philly. I was just a young teenager struggling with what seemed like insurmountable odds against my success.

From the summits, I can personally affirm Tony’s commitment to developing the next generation of young leadership, African American leadership in particular. Tony changed my life in a real way. In 1995 the 16-year-old Otis was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying, “My neighborhood’s got problems, lots of problems. There aren’t too many solutions. It seems like people just accept violence.” After that day, I took Tony’s challenge to take responsibility to heart and spent the rest of my life finding solutions for my community’s most pressing challenges. I left with a renewed sense of purpose. I went back to high school and became a leader there. Then I went on to become a student leader in college and law school. Most importantly, I came back to North Philadelphia to live, raise my family, and LEAD.
I am now an attorney and nonprofit executive where leading and finding solutions for Philadelphia’s most depressed communities is the foundation of my work. Tony Williams has had an impact on many young leaders like me. Tony is a man who doesn’t just talk the talk, but he’s been walking the walk for more than 20 years. He cares about young people. He cares about developing the next generation of community and civic leaders. And he shows it through his actions.

A Clear Vision for One Philadelphia

Anthony Williams is the only mayoral candidate who outlines an explicit vision for economic growth in Philadelphia. I wrote more about it here. Tony believes that the path to Philadelphia’s progress does not have to be an either/or proposition. We can be for big business and small business. We can grow the economy and address poverty issues. Tony is also the only candidate to make addressing poverty a priority in his economic plan. Tony specifically cited Shared Prosperity and Two Generational approaches to address poverty as policies that he would expand on. Tony’s economic plan clearly makes the connection between bringing very high level businesses and tax policy to the city, while also connecting it to benefit ordinary people and how they access jobs.

If education is the number one issue in this race, Anthony Hardy Williams for mayor should be at the top of everyone’s list. The crux of every mayoral candidate’s education plan is to lobby Harrisburg for a fair funding formula for Philadelphia schools. There is no mayoral candidate in this race better equipped to work with the Governor and Republican legislators in Harrisburg than Anthony Hardy Williams. Senator Williams has distinguished himself in the State Senate as someone who can work across the aisle and get things done. He is the second-ranking Democrat in Harrisburg with strong relationships with Democrats and Republicans alike. He has been able to take the lead on pushing three key pieces of legislation through a Republican-controlled legislature (AVI, sale tax, cigarette tax) and signed by a Republican Governor that brought $250 million in public school funding to Philadelphia. These bills were introduced and spearheaded by Tony because he was the only legislator from Philadelphia who could pass them. That is a testament to his leadership, collaboration, and ability to get things done in Harrisburg. The next mayor has to have great relationships in Harrisburg in order to improve our schools. Tony has them. No one else does.

Debunking the myth of racial politics

One African American woman recently told me, “I’m not voting for Anthony Williams because he is black. I am voting for Anthony Williams because I AM black.” As a young African American man, this is a distinction that I certainly can understand. If you can’t understand this sentiment, then you should consider these facts: I live in a predominantly African American community in Strawberry Mansion where the poverty rate is 42%. As a nonprofit executive, I work in another predominantly African American community in Point Breeze where the poverty rate is 37%. These numbers are 3-4 times the national poverty rate. Here’s more:

  • People of color will constitute a majority of Americans under age 18 within three years. In less than three decades, they will represent a majority of the total population.
  • Currently, these groups lag the rest of the general population in virtually every socioeconomic indicator of success, including life expectancy, educational attainment, and employment.
  • In Philadelphia, 35.1% of our youth have experienced poverty. Of this group, African Americans represent 20.4% of that number.
  • Children who experience poverty are three times as likely to be poor at age 30 as those who were never poor as children.
  • Of the eleven largest U.S. counties, Philadelphia has the second highest percentage of children living in single-parent households with 45.5%. Of that number, African American children represent 66.4% of that group.
  • In 2013, a child living in a single female-headed family was nearly five times more likely to be poor than a child living in a married-couple family.
  • Of 2900 children who experience homelessness in Philadelphia, 78% are African American.

African Americans are also the most incarcerated and fall victim to violent crime at higher rates. So if you are an African American in Philadelphia, you are looking for a mayoral candidate who has a RECORD addressing the issues of the African American community. As George Burrell stated, you are looking for a candidate with a “record on the critical and life changing issues that are important to reducing poverty in the African American community, growing African businesses to scale, creating wealth and pushing back against gentrification.” Burrell goes on to state, “Unlike education, which impacts all communities citywide, the foregoing issues impact the African American and other minority communities uniquely and require direct attention.”

Anthony Williams HAS a record addressing these critical issues, as does some other mayoral candidates. As an at-large city councilman for more than 20 years, Jim Kenney DOES NOT have a record addressing issues in the African American community, nor has he expressed any interest until recently. One African American observer put it this way:

“Specifically, for black folks, [Tony’s] mentored the next generation of black elected officials. He pushed for black judges like Timika Lane, at least three black politicians (Rep. Harris, DA Wiliams, and CM Johnson) are former staffers of his. You show me other Philly politicians who have effectively mentored the next generation of political leaders. There aren’t many because they stay on for so long it becomes their lifestyle.”

“[Tony’s] focused on gun violence in neighborhoods for over 25 years, firearm registration and he created the Gun Violence Taskforce, a joint state and local initiative. He helped an all black constituent group create a political action committee to fight back against the refinery in their neighborhood. Whatever you think about charter schools, they are over 90% black enrollment, with a 30,000 person waiting list providing an alternative education pathway for families that desperately want one. He created the Diversity Apprenticeship program to get more African Americans in the building trades. He passed legislation to require public schools fully teach slavery and other genocides. He secured a $50,000 grant to save the Pennsylvania Prison Society’s Philly ReNew program that provided jobs to returning citizens. All of these issues, which are not exhaustive, are a testament to directly addressing issues facing the black community.”


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