Recycle paper and plastic, not politicians

doley sisters
Aine (left) and Emaleigh Doley are two sisters that have worked together with owners and renters of house on W. Rockland St. off of Germantown Ave to improve the look of their neighborhood. The residents are planting gardens in front of their homes and a community garden at the top of their street. Photograph taken on Thursday afternoon June 21, 2012. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

I WENT ON an informal meet-and-greet of young leaders in the city this summer.

First stop was a dynamic group of young black men who were doing all kinds of grassroots work in their neighborhoods. Among them, Anton Moore, who founded a local nonprofit called Unity in the Community to help unify his South Philadelphia neighborhood, and Alex Peay, who heads another nonprofit called Rising Sons, an after-school program to help young black men succeed.

Next were the irrepressible Doley sisters, Emaleigh and Aine. In short: If we could clone these Germantown community activists, the city would be better off

In between talking to a bunch of others, I checked in with Young Involved Philadelphia, where Monet Thomas-Anderson gave me hope after I bemoaned the lack of young people in power and she assured me that all was not lost. For starters, the group's fifth annual State of Young Philly is Nov. 14-22.

"We're a quiet storm," Thomas-Anderson said. "We're coming . . ."

Well then, Philadelphia: Let. It. Rain.

Normally I'm all about recycling. But Philly's penchant for recycling leaders gives me a serious case of agita.

In such a large city that attracts so many young people, it makes zero sense that the same old names and faces get bandied about.

For mayor alone, Frank Rizzo Jr.

Lynne Abraham.

Milton Street 2.0. (And don't even get me started on the usual suspects tapped to run nonprofits.)

It's like some unending political cycle of lather, rinse, repeat. And although Ed Rendell may not be running for public office - he says - the man does seem to get a prom-queen's glow from having his name mentioned so much.

Which is why I want to jump ahead of today's election to talk about the future. Just as important to Philadelphia as who we support today is who we support tomorrow. And tomorrow's Philadelphia needs some fresh blood, bad.

Not surprisingly, few of the young people I talked to disagreed that much of the city's leadership needed an upgrade. Many were impatient with politicians who were well past their expiration date.

"At some point in time you have to pass down the torch or you're going to die with it," one up-and-comer said.

Sound familiar? Of course it does - because each generation of leaders is impatient to hurry along the one before. As they should be.

Ben Stango, board member of Young Involved Philadelphia, cautioned against moving too fast to push aside the old guard - especially since many are still doing a good work. He said while electing millennials will take time, a growing movement of engaged millennials is already underway

"To be very frank, I think oftentimes we as young, involved people get ahead of ourselves," he said. "There is a lot of good work going on, lots of good community work and lots of people talking to each other. But the fact is when I elect somebody, when I vote for somebody, I want to vote for someone who is going to get things done, who is prepared to get things done. And that takes time."

Time and a foundation built by learning the ropes in the public and/or private sector, he said. To understand how to get things done, from making payroll to negotiating with other leaders.

"This is a 30-year-game," Stango said. "I expect the next three decades to be the years of the millennials, and it's not going to be everyone at once and it's not going to be one giant sea change. It's going to be the right people stepping up at the right time."

Fair enough. One impromptu tour of local talent later, and a few things are clear. The talent is out there. So is the desire. And despite my impatience for new leaders, so is the commitment to lay the necessary groundwork before taking the reins.

Still, I call for a moratorium on the same old. Let's recycle paper and plastic, Philly. Not politicians.




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