Philadelphia’s story is a tale of two cities.
On the one hand, it is a place where wealth speaks out from Center City skyscrapers and Main Line mansions, in gentrifying communities and pockets of old money. On the other hand, it is a place where generational poverty and fatal addictions are the legacies of inequality.
These two cities exist in a single space, yet it sometimes seems that neither is aware of the other. On rare occasions, these two places come together, as they did when the Eagles shattered expectations to claw their way to the Super Bowl.
Call me an idealist, but I believe this is the moment for these two separate versions of Philadelphia to finally see one another, both to celebrate the unlikely rise of our Philadelphia Eagles, and to address the challenges that face us as a community.
That’s why I’m calling for Philadelphians of all stripes to join me on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. for “A Prayer for the City,” a coming together at the center of City Hall to pray for the success of our Eagles and to seek guidance on the pressing issues we face.
We have much to be thankful for, beginning with the fact that our city has survived and thrived from the founding of our nation until now. We should be thankful that our character is embodied not just in the fictional underdog that is Rocky, but also in the real life champions that have walked Philadelphia’s streets.
From middleweight champion Joey Giardello to basketball champion Dawn Staley, from Bernard “the Executioner” Hopkins to iconic pitcher Steve Carlton, we have seen greatness in those who have worn our uniforms or grown from our neighborhoods achieve greatness.
Perhaps that’s why the story of the Eagles is so inspiring. It is the story of a team with few elite athletes and an abundance of heart. Who would have believed that a team cobbled together from journeymen and castoffs, backups and role players would rise to the Super Bowl, and do so with a second-year coach and a second-string quarterback? Almost no one would believe such a thing was possible, and yet here we are.
That is the magic of Philadelphia. It is a place where the underdog is valued, because in the underdog, we all see a bit of ourselves, and for that, we are both thankful and inspired.
We will need such inspiration to deal with the realities we face as a city. By looking back at the victories we’ve already won we can find strength for the battle ahead. It is a battle for our very existence.
For years, Philadelphia has lived with a thriving drug culture in its poorest communities. We lived with open-air drug markets where lives were bought and sold for $5 at a time. We watched as prostitution fed the darkness beneath the El tracks. We looked away as Kensington and Allegheny became a place where death hung precariously from the end of a needle.
And now, in the poorest big city in America, where we boast the highest opioid death rate of any major American city, we have reached such levels of desperation that city leaders may soon allow so-called safe injection sites where medical personnel will be on hand to prevent overdose deaths.
As someone who has gone through an addiction, I think that’s a risk, because I know better than most that you can’t enable addicts. If you do, they may live through the overdose, but their spirit will die in a cloud of drug dependence, and in my view, that’s no existence at all.
However, in the face of mounting overdose deaths, I understand why our leaders would consider such a thing.
Therefore, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We can allow a quarter of our city to languish in poverty and addiction while the rest of us rise and achieve. We can allow the impoverished to be pushed out of gentrifying communities while the rest of us improve our lives. We can allow our schools to fall further behind while new parents move to the suburbs.
Or we can do what Philadelphians have always done. We can beat the odds. We can fight through adversity. We can win improbable victories.
That will require heart, and commitment, and skill. But it will also require us to believe in a future we cannot yet see.
I’ve watched our Eagles believe in each other when no one else would. I’ve watched their leaders pray for favor while naysayers said they’d never win. I’ve seen them play David to many Goliaths.
As a city, we can do that, too. It won’t be easy, but in a moment like this, when we’re already standing together, the least we can do is try.
Meet me at City Hall at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and let us pray.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM.