The No #PhillyShrug movement growing

Posted: April 12, 2013

SUIT UP, friends. The growing anti-#PhillyShrug™ army is heading out.

The campaign kicked off last month with a custom T-shirt made by my pals at Airtime Airbrush in the Gallery at Market East.

(Have you gotten your T-shirt yet? Twenty five bucks and you're official.)

Pockets of non-shruggers all over the city have stepped up to join:

Community groups who fought off projects they didn't think were right for their neighborhoods.

College students who've identified the same pervasive apathy and are determined to change it.

Prisoners who have written me about their plans to dump the Philly Shrug that they partly blame for their troubles. One even signed his letter with the No Philly Shrug logo.

As promised, I'll occasionally bring you some of their stories. But fair warning, Philly shruggers: Prepare for a slow and steady coup.

Meet the first of our proud and shrug-free, the Center for Literacy.

The center designated itself a Shrug Free Zone with signs designed by one of its workers, Mikecia Witherspoon. Love it!

The people who walk through the center's doors are exactly the type of anti-shrug soldiers needed to ensure our victory.

They don't just shrug off their circumstances. They are driven to learn how to read, speak English, get their GEDs and beat the odds.

More than 50 percent of Philadelphians read below a sixth-grade level. Philadelphia's on-time graduation rate was 64 percent in 2011, according to the school district. That's way below the national average.

These days, the center's contagious anti-shrug mentality is in overdrive. And for good reason.

There are some big changes coming to the GED tests in 2014. For starters, the newly computerized tests are going to be harder and more expensive. The paper tests were $75. Computerized tests are $120.

If a student hasn't passed all five tests before the end of the year, he or she will have to start over. With about 2,000 people in the city pursuing a GED each year, these changes can potentially set a lot of people back.

Gabriela Rivas is determined not to be one of them. The 34-year-old from the Dominican Republic dropped out of school in the 10th grade. She recently took the first of five tests necessary for a GED, and passed. She's determined to get her GED before the December deadline, when the old testing system will be replaced and she'd have to start the process over again.

"I want a better life and a better job," she said.

Maribel Ojeda, her teacher and the center's assistant program manager, anxiously waited outside the room while Rivas took her test. She said students at the Center for Literacy exemplify the anti-shrug message.

"The people who come here are hungry," she said. "They embody the kind of attitude that is the exact opposite of the Philly Shrug. As an educator, it's really empowering. We can all learn from them."

And now a couple of updates.

The good news: Colwin Williams, the ex-con I've been writing about since his release after 18 years in prison, got a part-time job as an intervention worker for Philadelphia CeaseFire. It's part of a national violence-intervention program headquartered at Temple University. "I'm moving forward with meaning and purpose," he said when we last spoke.

The bad news. The "Littlepage 40" - what I'm now calling the group of mostly ex-cons who were screwed by the apparently untouchable city contractor Garnett Littlepage and then the startlingly unresponsive city - still haven't been paid. A few city officials reached out after my column to say they felt for the workers who have been waiting nearly a decade for money that they earned. Here's an idea: Don't feel their pain. End it. It's that easy. We'll keep a running countdown until the city does the right thing.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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