Like Philadelphia, I’ve had problems that I’ve taken too long to address. Like Philadelphia, I’ve faced seemingly insurmountable odds. And like Philadelphia, I’ve always managed to rise up from the ashes.
In short, I learned resilience from Philadelphia, because I was here — laughing and crying, winning and losing, living and learning — as the city bounced back from decades of struggle.
That resilience is our city’s best hope.
Answering the bell
As we uncover flaws in the city’s new property tax assessment system, and assign blame for the draconian federal budget cuts known as the Sequester, and wonder aloud at the gun lobby’s refusal to recognize gun violence as a scourge, Philadelphia’s must do what it does best.
We must ask take action.
We must move forward.
We must fight.
I watched the city fight through the economy of the 70s and revive itself with the ’76 Bicentennial.
I was there when our most vulnerable neighborhoods were sent sprawling by the drug culture of the 80s.
I watched from the sidelines as entrepreneurs prospered from the 90s dot-com boom.
And seeing all those things made me wary enough to buy conservatively during the housing surge of the 2000s.
But this is a new decade, and while the lessons we learned from past battles should inform our current strategy, we must always remember that these are different fights.
How to knock out today’s foes
In today’s battles, higher property taxes could force longtime residents out of their homes, lower population could force students out of their schools and the looming issues of poverty and gentrification could change the very face of the city.
If we confront these realities head on, and do so together, we can craft real solutions. But if we don’t, we’ll not only lose these fights, we’ll lose other fights, as well.
When national budget debacles like the Sequester force needy mothers out of food programs like Women Infants and Children (WIC), push the poor out of energy programs like LIHEAP and cause jobless people who’ve paid into the system to endure cuts to their unemployment checks, Philadelphia — with its 28 percent poverty rate — could suffer more than other large cities.
While we don’t know whether a retroactive deal will eventually reverse such cuts, we do know this: Philadelphians must keep fighting for ourselves, because that’s how we’ve always survived.
Boxers, real and fictional, a font of motivation
In times of adversity, our city has consistently identified with fighters. Sometimes the results were ironic, like the invention of Rocky, a fictional character whose story overshadowed — and some say stole from — the real-life Philadelphia heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier.
Sometimes the results were disastrous, like the alleged murderous rampage of boxer-turned-accused-drug-dealer Kaboni Savage. But no matter how heartwrenching the connections were, they were genuine, they were abiding and they were tightly connected to our past.
Out of the suffering of the sixties, which saw Columbia and Ridge Avenues burn in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, a new breed of Philadelphia fighters rose up.
They were lean and powerful, quick and crafty, and they epitomized our city’s grit. They carried names like Willie “the Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Bennie Briscoe, and Eugene “Cyclone” Hart. Those men, who rose from Philly’s decimated streets like the cloud after a nuclear explosion, paved the way for champions like North Philadelphia’s Bernard Hopkins.
I think of such men when I consider the problems our city faces. I think of them and I remember that we are a city of fighters.
Some of us fight with our fists. Others fight with our wits. But all of us fight with the conviction of those who’ve survived the struggles of the past. That’s why I’m secure in the knowledge that we can endure whatever comes next.
In spite of the Sequester, in spite of AVI, and even in spite of ourselves, we will fight our way back. No matter the political climate, no matter how grim the outlook, no matter how many times you knock us down, we will always get back up with fire in our eyes. Because this is Philadelphia. This is my city, and in my city, we fight.