Big Things!

Recently UrbEd City Director, Horace Ryans III, took part in the developing and presenting a Professional Development Workshop hosted by the School District. The workshop's title: Black Boy's and Young Men: Liberated, Education, Empowered.  Horace and a fellow student Khalid Abogourin co-facilitated a conversation with twenty Philadelphia School District teachers that came together to talk about this topic that is relevant in our community. 

During the workshop topics spanning from, "underfunded schools," to, "the lack of teacher support in our schools." Every single person was engaged and provided their input on everything that was mentioned. 

In the room, there were K-12 teachers. Some taught in class sizes of thirty and shared with Horace that "the difference in care and attention that they won't give to each student is difficult when we there are 30 other screaming children." 

Overall, each individual left with a personal connection to the topic. They felt empowered to take the strategies that they learned in the workshop and apply them to their classrooms the next day. We are so proud of Horace and the work the work he's doing in Philadelphia. 

-Horace Ryans, City Director

Where Are The African American Male Lead Characters In Books For Youth?

Name a well known African American male lead character in books for youth 7 to 10 years of age. I'm sure most will struggle to answer this question. Considering there are a significant number of prominent African American male entertainers and athletes that most of us could name, it is disappointing that there is this huge challenge when it comes to children's books.

I worked as Target Stores Toy Buyer for 8 years (1994-2002) and a Disney Toy Salesperson for 8 years (2008-2016). During this time frame, I rarely saw any racially diverse lead characters in cartoons, movies or books for youth. Considering the youth minority population continues to grow year after year one would think racially diverse lead characters would become more prominent in children's entertainment. Maybe there is something that I should try to do in order help provide a solution!

Even though I did not expect this to happen, an opportunity surfaced for me to be part of the solution. August 2003, a cousin of mine, Lehman Riley, gave me a call and asked me to swing by his house so he could show me a children's book concept he had created. Lehman talked to me about a 3rd-grade reading level series book concept titled "The Adventures of Papa Lemon's Little Wanderers". Papa Lemon's Magical Train would transport 5 racially diverse friends back in time in order for them to learn about our nations diverse heritage. Also, in real-life Papa Lemon is our grandfather! What a great idea! We formed a publishing company and began our book venture in July 2004.

The Papa Lemon Book business has had plenty of highs and lows. We have published 8 books with subject matter ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King, a Navajo Wind Talker, Abe Lincoln's battle with depression and Bullying. Our ultimate goal is to make Papa Lemon a household name and have him be an educational icon for ALL children. An animated TV show would be amazing too! Imagine a positive African American grandpa as a lead character that well recognized.

It's beginning to feel like the timing is right for more African American lead characters to emerge in books for our youth. Racial issues are getting more media coverage across the country. Just imagine you are an 8-year-old African American child and you have access to more books featuring an African American male. Maybe Papa Lemon can help lead the way. If not, I know there are other books that feature an African American male. Consider making a concerted effort to support books featuring an African American male. We can ALL make a difference once book purchase at a time!

Paul Dixon, Papa Lemon Book Publisher

The Importance and Effect of iTAG

UrbEd is doing a series of community events that educate teachers on how to build the understanding of underprivileged students’ rights and needs in schools. These events are called the Inquiry To Action Group, or iTAG. While watching the outline of the presentation done by special projects coordinator Horace Ryans and Zoey Tweh, I was very impressed. The presentation begins with a detailed understanding of student perspective, done with a combination of videos, discussions, and explanations from personal experience. Since the main audience of these events is teachers, learning about the student perspective on school safety in classrooms is crucial. Sharing this insight provides a good platform for very interesting and beneficial discussions. There is also a brief lesson to give a deeper understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline and how deeply it affects students. The iTAG digs deeper into how to create a classroom environment that does not perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. It also touches on the importance of creating a safe classroom setting for students who struggle with various mental health problems. The general celebration of students is extremely important, and showing students their voices are valuable from a young age can make a huge difference in the bigger picture.They share different ways in which teachers can show students their voices are important and their voices matter. One thing that can deeply affect kids while growing up is the feeling of not being trustworthy, and exemplifying trust of students in classrooms is always necessary. Of course, the more you take, the more you give. If students feel respected, the respect will be returned. If students feel more encouraged, safe, and trusted in classrooms, they will naturally put forth their best efforts. Students who recognize their own brilliance and potential will go forth more ambitious and confident in all aspects of their life. As a high school student, it would be extremely reassuring knowing that teachers and adults in my life put in extra effort to make sure I feel welcome at school. Even if you are not going into the teaching field, I would recommend the iTAG program for anyone looking to better understand the importance of respect and mutual understanding between adults and kids, whether it be mentors and mentees, teachers and students, or anything else.

Thea Risher

Communications Associate

A Personal Perspective on the School Walkout

I usually write blog posts about horrible things that are going on in the world--and there are many--but I decided that we should celebrate a good thing that happened: the national walkout on March 14.

It was moving. Hundreds, maybe thousands of students from my school, and students from Girls’ High nearby were out of class and protesting. I stood with my fellow Central Students outside the front doors of our school while the names of the Parkland victims were read and a mini-biography was stated for each one. Then someone read a spoken-word poem, which was powerful in itself and powerful because it was student-written. Everyone clapped in that hard, impressed way that conveys the audience is trying to display as much appreciation as possible with only their hands.

I didn’t know so many people were going to walk out. I thought I’d get up out of my seat in history, receive a hard-earned shocked look from my teacher (who, to say the least, implied his disapproval of our movement--our foot movement and our activism movement), and I’d be the only person leaving.

I guess I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the movement? But my fellow students were shuffling around the pavement and we were all together--not just in our group huddled against the cold, but in our mindset. For once, there were no lines dividing those who looked down on others, those who thought they were better. We were all together.

When we were mourning the Florida losses, Girls’ High girls came stampeding down the street holding signs and shouting. My friend said she wanted to shout with them. A few cars honked their horns at us.

After the hour-long vigil, some of us--those who could, earning yearning looks from those who wanted to but couldn’t--took to the train station, crowded into seats on the orange line to get to City Hall.

That was the most moving part. Because I realized it was all youth leading this movement. Sure, there were adult police officers guarding the streets to make sure we were okay, but the oldest people I noticed were college students. And because of that, there were people scrambling up statues and climbing on stop-sign poles, and it was chaos in its best form, people shouting out chants into megaphones and standing on top of big potted plants to be heard and seen because we didn’t have podiums? Or stages? We did this ourselves. And there was that general teen energy, that kind of sizzling happiness that comes with youth--people running up to hug each other and people’s voices, strong, parting the crowd. And it was amazing to be surrounded by people who cared so strongly, in such quantity. Throngs of them, of us, making sure the cars couldn’t meander down the streets and receiving horn-honks of support from the adults on their way to work.

One woman came up to my group of friends and told us how great it was that we were doing this; kids hadn’t done this since the war in the ‘60s, she said, how great it was that we were doing this, rising again as grandkids to the hippies from a few decades ago.

We, I’ve decided, are our parents’ last remaining memory. We are rising against all that BS being thrown in our faces: it can’t be better than this. You’re gonna have to deal with the guns and the bad education and the war. People aren’t good. People aren’t good. But we know we are--we all are. We’ve forgotten how, but we are good.

And, as that lady at the march said, we are the next generation’s leaders.



Mass School Shootings - What Can We Do to Prevent Them?

With the gun violence  erupting both in the country and in the minds of American society, many different things have been said. Restrictions on who can own a gun and why will make our America a safer America--these types of restrictions certainly make other countries safer. UrbEd made a statement about gun control that I unwaveringly stand behind.

But I want to tell you why education--better education--can mitigate this violence we’ve been facing.

The recent Florida shooting was done by a Nikolas Cruz,  man who was just barely that--19 years old. And while crimes like that are inexcusable and devastating, they all stem from a place of ignorance. Ignorance in our world and our system, to the fact that so many people lack sufficient education, economic support, healthcare, and other necessary aspects of society. Cruz was an orphan who was in the foster system and, at the time of the shooting, was living with a couple who revealed that they allowed him to keep weapons, including the assault rifle used in the shooting, as long as these weapons were in a locked safe.

It’s abhorrent for young people of color. Recently police from the Baltimore police department were caught carrying around toy guns to plant on innocent black victims of police shootings. Just in case a police officer was caught, in a moment of ignorance and hatred, having shot a black person unwarranted. Just so they could save their own asses, even though they have the upper hand. There are police officers and politicians and teachers and people upon people who keep their jobs after having done unspeakable things.

Why are young people without parents being put into systems where they are made to fail? The system values grades over morality. Students would rather go against their values and cheat, simply because our system thinks a GPA is a value of your worth. Some people say that it’s not about guns; it’s about morality. Even if that were true, schools don’t encourage morality. Due to a lack of funding in Philadelphia public schools for air conditioning or heating, students either swelter inside classrooms or are shivering in their layers. Lockers are small, bathrooms are dirty, lunch is rudimentary. Public schools do not create learning environments where either students or teachers can reach their full potential! Teachers are so grossly underpaid that some of them are not motivated to teach well.  Teachers are also not always given the resources they need to teach--the books for their students to read, the printer paper for handouts, the laptops for essay-writing?

Who gets all these resources? The private schools. If there were systems in place to make it so that every school was public and the money that went towards funding private schools instead was put towards bettering public schools, education would be accessible and engaging and a tool wielded to its full potential. And then the students would grow up to their full potentials, to become what they are. Good education--or lack thereof--is just part of the reason that people like Nikolas Cruz are driven to shoot up schools. All these systems are interconnected, and it will take a lot more posts, marches, laws, policies, and movements to fix them.

Mayana Ashley-Carner, Student at Central High School

STATEMENT: Enough is Enough!

In the wake of the Florida shooting, we at UrbEd want to make it clear that we with the youth throughout the country, communities and the public who are sick and tired of experiencing tragedy.. At times of mass tragedy, there is a place and need to drop divisions among all and mourn the devastating loss of young vulnerable lives. Youth being murdered is fundamentally horrific and that basic, depoliticized grief is valid.

But we also need to look at the growing frequency of these occurrences. Students going to school and not being able to return home has become our new reality. As millions of Americans have clearly articulated, thoughts and prayers are of goodwill, but if they are not followed up with tactical policies they mean nothing. There are numerous obvious solutions including common sense background checks, restricting access to assault rifles, increased training requirements for gun ownership, and many others policies related to keeping people safe. These are only some of the solution involving policies around firearms.

At UrbEd we address education in urban areas and what is missing from the conversation about gun control is the extent it would impact urban areas. Not only would these policies impact the occurrence of school shootings but it has the potential to greatly reduce the 300+ homicides seen in Philadelphia alone. Gun policy is not only impacting the more rare occurrences of mass shootings, but the literal hourly violence impacting urban students and their surrounding communities. Threats and violence as a result of firearms are a threat to many urban students inside and outside school walls.

Gun control isn’t a call to just address one issue, common sense gun control impacts multiple layers of the lives of urban students of color. From mass shootings to gun violence, to police brutality, gun control and steps within educational institutions are a must.

The acts have been a need for years, but what is different now is the student movement to change it. UrbEd invites students, educators, parents, and reformers from all over to join our team and communities in demanding real change. Student are united demanding that the people that we elect to do their damn jobs by enacting common sense gun policies and needed mental and emotional support for students. Join UrbEd and students across the nation in national walkouts this coming March 14th and April 20th, at 10:00 am students will walk out demanding reform to the broken system and emphasizing that students lives matter. Click here to learn more about the movement and join.


Other Actions:

  • 3/14/18, 12:30pm @ City Hall - PSU, Juntos, and other youth organizations are gathering and marching demanding for local and statewide reform around gun control and school environment. A student march for safer schools!

  • 3/21/18, 10:00am @4th and Arch - Demand the Ban coalition is having a joint action involving symbolically turning an assault rifle into a garden tool and hosting a sit in at Pat Toomey's office demanding him and all other legislators increase safety and ban assault rifles.

  • 3/24/18, 9:00am March for Our Lives Philadelphia - In support of the DC March for our lives, students and concerned citizens are marching in Philadelphia to show support and demand for increased gun control.

As student, advocates, and reformers UrbEd will fight for the safety and dignity of each and every student and person.


UrbEd Team


The Importance of Diverse Educators

 Here at UrbEd, one of the main things we are trying to achieve is a diverse group of educators in Philadelphia public schools. Why? you may ask. When I first read this on UrbEd’s address I wondered the same thing. Why are diverse educators necessary? Actually--why is diversity necessary?

Let’s start with something that--albeit subtly--is at the heart of human nature: community. People need community. School, family, your neighborhood--we are surrounded by our community. We are made by it. Recently I was in a discussion with someone about why people believe the things they do, why we are convinced we’re just as right as the next person with a completely different opinion. She said something really interesting: community makes people feel more sure about their beliefs, perhaps beliefs they were tentative about in the first place. When the whole school is out at a fire drill--sure, it’s cold, and annoying, but everyone is out there standing behind the school together, and somehow, there is a feeling of safety, of power, even, in that togetherness.

Fire drills are trivial things, and togetherness during them won’t ultimately help the world thrive. But education--that’s important. In Philadelphia, as of 2015, black people have made up 43% of the students attending schools in the Philadelphia School District [Statistical Atlas]. But as for black educators, only 25% of teachers in Philadelphia are black [The Inquirer]. That means that black kids from pre-k level to 12th grade are not even close to being as represented by the adults who teach them as they should be.

Again, why does this matter? Why is this important? It’s important because without representation, there can be no sense of community--or, to take out part of that word--of unity.

As I white person I cannot claim to know specifically how lack of representation in their educators makes black students feel. But as a gay person, it is extremely helpful for me to have an openly gay teacher in my school, who is comfortable talking with students about just how gay they are. To have one of our intellectuals, our role models--an admired and respected teacher--also be gay, just like me, just like a lot of my friends and peers who want representation, is comforting and important--and makes me feel a sense of community, of unity, with the world and its intellectuals.

Students, both young ones who may not have a detailed sense of the world, and older ones, who are just preparing to leave high school and enter the real world, need to feel like they are a part of a group. Which is why it’s amazing for kids of all ethnicities that there are slightly more than half as many black kids attending schools in Philadelphia as there are white kids--because with exposure to every ethnicity, walls of xenophobia between students will disappear, and they can grow up being more comfortable with each other. But it’s not all about the kids. A part of representation--an important part--is who leads said kids in their endeavors, who teaches them. Kids look up to their teachers, even older kids. If an example is set of black educators--if the people who know things are not just white people, but black people--then kids will look up to these people. When kids grow up feeling like the adults themselves--the intellectuals, the educators, the role models--can only be white, black might kids feel like they can’t be role models, educators, intellectuals. Kids in a minority group whose schools aren’t very diversely populated may feel more confidence and self-reassurance at having educators who are also in minority groups.

Everyone needs representation; everyone needs to feel like they are part of a community. Everyone of every race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Today, because it is the second week of Black History Month, I touched on why it is important for kids of all races to be taught by more black educators, but--obviously--representation for every ethnicity is not only ideal, but something we can, should, will accomplish.

Mayana, Blogger



Statement of Support: Black Lives Matter Week of Action

UrbEd is a strong supporter and collaborator in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action lead by Working Educators (WE). Students in urban school districts are primarily students of color and so our work is trying to uplift the voices and concerns of these students. We understand the generations of oppression and intersectional structural racism that impacts our urban schools today. We, as students, advocates, and reformers, stand with WE and organizations across the city saying: Black Lives Matter, Black Students Matter, and now is the time to mobilize and reform education. We encourage everyone to come with us to the Black Lives Matter week of action events, learn more about their demands that UrbEd has signed on to, and get involved!


UrbEd Team