Big dreams, big city

    Over the last two years while working with Philadelphia students through a literacy program I created, I rediscovered what I already knew — that there are real people behind the stories of crime and violence that we so often hear in Philadelphia.

     The Philadelphia Experiment is a candid look at the challenges of raising a family in a place that is often funny, sometimes dangerous, occasionally heartbreaking, but always real.

    Over the last two years while working with Philadelphia students through a literacy program I created, I rediscovered what I already knew — that there are real people behind the stories of crime and violence that we so often hear in Philadelphia.

    I’ve met students whose parents were murdered, students who care for their younger siblings because their parents work two jobs and students whose parents are recovering addicts trying their best to recoup what’s been lost.

    The amazing thing about these students is that they continue to strive through hardship, to come to school every day, to drown out the noise around them, and to dream of a better future.

    My wife and I have tried to teach our own children to dream.  To go beyond what others expect of them and put a whole new set of expectations on themselves, because as black children growing up in Philadelphia, they will sometimes be typecast in roles they didn’t write, and defined by the stereotypes of others.

    I never knew how closely our children were listening until I happened upon a scrap of paper that my daughter Eve found when she was cleaning her room.

    She’d recorded her dreams on that piece of paper, citing her life goals before boldly proclaiming in huge pink, blue and orange lettering, “Dream and do.”

    The paper was signed and dated like a contract: “Eve, summer, 9 years old. July 19, 2011.”

    I don’t know that it would have caught my attention if the dreams weren’t as big as the letters, but they were, and so I read them. When I did my heart filled with pride, because I could see in Eve’s dreams the lessons we’ve tried to teach her.

    For years I’ve often told Eve that I wanted her to go to Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, a Philadelphia magnet school that’s been designated as one of the best in the country.

    I also encouraged her to aim for Harvard, where her gift of communication would make her a prime candidate for law school.

    Each of those dreams was reflected on this torn sheet of paper, along with her determination to rise to the presidency, not just for herself, but for other young women like her.

    “What I really want to do and show is that an African American woman can do anything she sets her mind to,” Eve wrote. “I want to make a mark and tell African Americans they can do better. They can do the same thing I did and show one person can make a difference.”

    She’s already made a difference for me.

    She’s shown me that in the face of all that Philadelphia’s children see, from drugs to violence and everything in between, there is one thing they must see more clearly than anything else. They have to see their dreams, because if they can see what they want and are willing to strive for it, those dreams become more than the hope for Philadelphia’s future. They become hope for our city’s present.

    How do I know? Because the first dream Eve wrote about in July 2011 has already come true.

    I dropped her off at Masterman this morning.

    Solomon Jones will be launching his latest book, The Dead Man’s Wife, on October 16th. For information on the author and audio podcasts of his books go to solomonjones.com.

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