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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Philadelphia Magazine’s ThinkFest

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks during ThinkFest. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Philadelphia Magazine’s annual Thinkfest, a weeklong series of conversations and interviews with city leaders and “thinkers” about the future of Philadelphia, focused this year on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and social justice issues.  

Held virtually and spread out over a week due to the coronavirus, Thinkfest 2020, which took place from June 8-12, was sponsored by St. Joe’s for a second year. University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., provided an introduction to a Q&A with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on June 11. 

“For hundreds of years, Philadelphia has been the home of revolutionary thinkers,” Reed said in his introduction. “Philadelphia is a place where important things get done, and Saint Joseph’s is proud to be a part of that tradition.”

In addition to Kenney, other speakers over the course of the week included U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, William R. Hite, Ph.D., superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia, Wil Reynolds, founder & vice president of Innovation at Seer Interactive, Asher Raphael, co-CEO of Power Home Remodeling and John Fry, president of Drexel University.

Many of the events addressed how Philadelphia can move forward after shutdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak as well as how fields such as education, public health, criminal justice, retail and restaurants have adapted to changes.

“People are stressed, they’re scared, they’re depressed, and they want to get back to work, and they want to start paying their bills again,” Kenney said. “So we’re hoping that as we move towards green, we won’t have that spike that we’re afraid of and then we can continue to ease on into more and more activities and get back to some new normal.”

According to the Pennsylvania Government’s website, the green phase eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health. Some restrictions, such as mask-wearing, do remain in place.

Many of the week’s speakers also addressed the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. Since Floyd’s death, thousands of people took to the streets across the U.S. and around the world to protest police violence against Black Americans and to highlight systemic racism. In numerous instances, police responded to protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. In Philadelphia, police fired tear gas at protesters who marched on the Vine Street Expressway on June 1. City leaders announced that the city plans to hire an outside consultant to investigate the police response.

When asked about what he had learned through the past weeks of protests and unrest in Philadelphia, Kenney said what happens with the changes in the city and the response moving forward depends on participation in change on all fronts.

“It’s been institutional racism and bias that has created the situation,” Kenney said. “What I did learn this week is that the weight and the stress and the sadness of Mr. Floyd’s death and all the others whose lives were taken by the police unfairly, that the weight of that pain is really devastating to people of color.”

During a June 9 presentation, Outlaw spoke about how she was handling protests both as a commissioner, and as a Black mother.

“When I spoke with my youngest about it, when I heard him tell me that he was in fear for his life, it really rattled me,” Outlaw said. “I said, ‘Come on now. You know your dad’s a cop. I’m a cop. You know what to do. And he says, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ My knees literally buckled because I felt so helpless.”

Outlaw said she forced herself to watch the now widely circulated video of Floyd dying as a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“That’s something you can’t unsee, and actually it’s something you can’t unhear,” Outlaw said. “I think for many of us in positions of influence to drive change, we are using that as our inspiration, not just with our internal messaging, explaining why it’s important not just for our community to see change, but for us internally to see change.

Kenney said Philadelphia will not be abolishing its police department. Calls across the country to defund or abolish police departments have been gaining traction after weeks of national protests against institutional racism.

“We’re never going to zero out the police,” Kenney said. “If, at the end of this process, we come up with different responsibilities for different departments in the city, other than the police in dealing with our intractable problems, that money would be shifted there.”

But Outlaw said Philadelphia has to be open to potential changes.

“Gone are the days that we’ve always done it like this, or we used to do it this way,” Outlaw said. “Let’s think about how we are shaping not just policing but the relationship between our community and our beliefs and how we can police for the next 100 years.”

Connecting with the community is key, Outlaw said. 

If you’re in a position of influence within the department, we have to humble ourselves,” Outlaw said. “Meet people where they are, sometimes be willing to hear things that are very difficult to hear, be a part of and show that we not only kneel in solidarity, but we are of the same community and we’re working towards the same goal.” 

As for the status of Philadelphia’s higher education institutions moving forward, Drexel President Fry said during a June 10 presentation on higher education in Philadelphia that he is confident Drexel University will continue to prosper despite social justice and global pandemic issues.

“The university has done a wonderful job by leaning in and listening, but there is still more education that needs to be done with the racial incidents that have been going on,” Fry said. “Other universities are doing this as well, but ours specifically. There are another set of tremendous needs that still need to be discussed. We are not approaching these issues in a transactional way but in a missional way. We want our faculty, staff and community to feel that they are respected and safe.” Drexel, like St. Joe’s, plans to return to in-person instruction in the fall, with the expectation that once the city is in the green phase, members of the university community can return to campus. 

“Even though the online learning has been successful, we miss being in the community,” Fry said. “We’re trying to establish some sense of normalcy, but at the same time health and safety has to go first.”

Fry said that in some ways, the pandemic has been a wake-up call for universities as they look to the future. 

“This may sound contradictory, but I think COVID[-19], as bad as this is, as tragic as it is, has also provided universities with the kick in the pants that they need to think about their model and what they do,” Fry said. 

One of the ways they can do that is to think about how to be open to the communities they serve, Fry said. 

“While there may be some institutions that can afford to turn lots of people away, I think that it’s the institutions that are going to be more open and democratic and flexible are the ones that are going to survive all this,” Fry said.

Jennifer Altonji ’20, Caroline Beljan ’22, Janine Dempster ’21, Riley Frain ’21, Matthew List ’22, Caroline Manyoky ’20, Makayla Monica ’21 and Lily Steele ’22 contributed to this story.

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