Amid familiar woes, spotting some hopeful signs of Philadelphia rising

 Brian McTear of Weathervane Music addresses the Junto group on the event's first day (Photo courtesy of Kevin Monko)

Brian McTear of Weathervane Music addresses the Junto group on the event's first day (Photo courtesy of Kevin Monko)

Last week, I got to spend some time with Philadelphia Rising.

After all the news about Philly failing – the agony of the schools, the chalk outlines on mean streets – it’s good to be reminded how, elsewhere in this city, another, hopeful story keeps getting written.

It’s authored by a growing cohort of people who combine creativity and work ethic with a passion for building community, right here, in the city where they have chosen to live.

About 40 such Philadelphians gathered last week at the Friends meeting house on Arch Street for a two-day retreat called the Junto. The name harkens back to that ultimate combo platter of talent, energy and civic spirit, Ben Franklin.

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This Junto was the brainchild of Geoff Dimasi, himself an exemplar of entrepreneurship married to engagement. Geoff runs P’unk Avenue, a digital design shop in South Philly, and his civic ventures are many.

The T-shirt he wore on Day One summed up the Junto’s spirit: “For profit. For good.” In other words, do great business, but connect how you run it and how you spend the profits to some larger mission.

The Junto attracted whip-smart techies, artists, and social entrepreneurs. They traded tips on how to define and hold tight to mission, while running your ship with the rigor and elan that foster sustainability.

The meeting house had a buzz that helped you feel Philly rising. These people clearly love their city, want to make it a place that is both great and kind.

People such as Gabriel Mandujano, whose Wash Cycle Laundry will deliver your order on bicycles piloted by people just out of prison or off welfare. Clean clothes; clean slates. Or Brian McTear, the thoughtful music producer who overcame immense personal challenge to found a nonprofit to nurture indie bands.

Oh, brave new city, that has such people in it. This “Philly Rising” might some day have the wit, the wallet and the will to lift up the other Philly, that familiar nexus of need and dysfunction. But such happy results are not guaranteed. Too few people outside the city know this story of Philly rising; they stay stuck in old clichés and goblin tales. Their fearful ignorance and disdain wound our city.

That’s why the story of Philly rising needs to told, retold and broadly heard. That’s why, here at WHYY and NewsWorks, we vow to cover this new, hopeful Philly, in every way we can.

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