Dinner and Dialogue, Jordan Harris

Dinner and Dialogue, Jordan Harris

On April 27, Philly Set Go launched the first of a series of “Dinner and Dialogue” meetings that Philly Set Go is hosting to bring together millennials, elected officials and community leaders in various neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.  The purpose is to foster conversations and relationships, and exchange ideas for a better Philadelphia for all Philadelphians.  The first one featured State Representative Jordan Harris, who represents Pennsylvania’s 186th Legislative District and serves as the Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.  The 186th stretches from Passyunk Avenue in the South to Lombard on the north end, and then from Broad Street on the east to the Schuylkill River on the west, with the exception of a small chunk of Kingsessing west of the river.  Principally, the district covers the neighborhoods of Graduate Hospital, Point Breeze, Newbold, Gray’s Ferry and Kingsessing, with a small sliver of Center City on the Northern boundary of the district.  

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The dinner included Representative Harris and his Chief of Staff, Jerald Johns, several community leaders from the various neighborhoods included within Representative Harris’s district, and then two Philly Set Go board members and their guests. The dinner was held at On Point Bistro, a newer BYO serving American fare at 1200 Point Breeze Avenue. On Point opened in September of 2016, and has a wonderful menu and great atmosphere. I think everyone enjoyed the location and the food. The discussion started with everyone introducing themselves, where they lived and detailing some of their areas of community involvement. From there, the conversation turned quickly to the issues facing Philadelphia generally, the 186th legislative district, and Philadelphia’s millennial population, both inside and outside the district. In fact, one of the conversations that ran through all of the issues discussed over the course of the dinner was the definition of a “millennial.” While Philly Set Go uses the term to denote individuals between the ages of 18 and 35, the discussion turned to whether or not all of the people who fall into that age demographic in Philadelphia identify with the label “millennial.” It was quickly agreed that most likely do not, due to the picture painted of the stereotypical millennial in popular culture and social media – and the conversation moved to how to engage with those who do not identify with the term millennial, even though they fall into the appropriate age bracket.

This conversation was one of the most encouraging and motivating discussions held over the course of the two-hour dinner. Although the discussion centered on difficult and understandably sensitive issues such as racial inequality, the discussion was productive, constructive and respectful. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, it was enlightening and I think many of us left with an enriched perspective on how to tackle the multifaceted problem of millennial disengagement in Philadelphia.

The group also discussed many other significant issues facing Philadelphia today. Representative Harris has worked tirelessly in favor of meaningful criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania. He has worked on reforming of bail procedures, ending mass incarceration, improving the parole system, and has made incredible progress towards implementing expungement programs that will help individuals across the Commonwealth avoid reentering the criminal justice system. In a recent video, Representative Harris persuasively argues against a Pennsylvania Bill that seeks to implement mandatory minimum sentences. Representative Harris also discussed with the group his admirable work to reform the practice of suspending students from school for disruptive and other non-violent misbehavior. The whole group engaged meaningfully with these issues, particularly in light of the upcoming District Attorney primary election on May 16. The discussion touched on important policy issues surrounding prosecutorial discretion, parole, and juvenile justice, which led naturally into a discussion of the City’s public education system, which is at or near the top of the list of important issues for most, if not all, of Philadelphia’s millennial population.

Representative Harris and Mr. Johns and several of the other attendees brought an interesting perspective to the public education discussion, having graduated from Philadelphia’s public school system. Further, the group included some important public education advocates, who have made significant progress towards making the public schools in the 186th legislative district among the best in Philadelphia. While public education is one of the most difficult problems to get one’s arms around, let along begin to solve, the discussion was edifying and enlightening. All in all, the dinner was tremendously informative and successful, and most importantly, fun. We are extremely grateful to Representative Harris, Mr. Johns, and the individuals who attended for making it a wonderful and productive evening. Here at Philly Set Go, we certainly had a number of important takeaways that we hope will improve our ability to succeed in our goal of maximizing millennial civic engagement in Philadelphia.

Notes:
• We will be having our next dinner in the Dinner and Dialogue series in the next two months, this one with State Representative Jared Solomon.
• Primary Day is May 16th! Philly Set Go has endorsed candidates in both the Republican (Beth Grossman) and Democratic (Rich Negrin) primaries. 
• Most importantly: GET OUT AND VOTE ON MAY 16! If millennials want our elected officials to tackle the issues most important to us, we need to get out and have our voices heard! Philly Set Go will be around the city on May 16, follow us on social media by using the hashtag #psgvotes.