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‘Doing a campaign on trash allows us to build connections and secure victories in the community’

Hello readers, my name is Antoinette Ellis. I am a citywide chapter member of Youth United for Change (YUC), a nonprofit and community based organization in Kensington. I am 15 years old and will be an incoming high school sophomore this fall. This is my first year with YUC, but I have become deeply invested with the organization and the work they do. 

Growing up, I was pretty quiet. I did my work, stayed on top of my grades, and that was pretty much it. I did not speak unless spoken to. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve slightly outgrown that. I’ve become more comfortable with public speaking, sharing my ideas, and giving input. I’ve also taken on more leadership roles, such as writing this essay, because of my commitment and actively engaging in conversations.

The sole purpose of this essay is to inform you all of YUC’s current campaign and go more in depth on what the campaign entails. The campaign is to get the City to address and reinvest in the issue of trash in the neighborhood. We are demanding that the City gives Kensington more Big Belly and regular trash cans for the sidewalks and access to dumpsites to dispose of large items.

In many areas that are overfilled with trash, I feel unsafe and unwelcomed. When a neighborhood is unkept, it gives off an impression that it is worthless and does not deserve the time of day. It allows others to judge those who live there without actually knowing them. If people who don’t live in these neighborhoods can have negative feelings toward the conditions Kensington’s residents are living in, what does that mean for those who do live there? The residents who come home to these conditions day after day, unable to escape the trash and the stereotypes placed on them, how must they feel? I can only imagine the anger, frustration, hopelessness, and disassociation from their community and neighbors they must feel on a daily basis.

Creating the campaign through community engagement 

Ellis poses for a photo. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

There is an art to establishing a campaign because it’s not a science. It won’t always be a straight path to planning and executing, but these are some of the steps we took.

First, we had to identify an issue that needed to be addressed. Since YUC is a community-based organization, we felt it was only right to ask Kensington community members what issues they faced that the City needed to address. So, members of YUC conducted surveys over the phone and in person to identify major issues in the community during the summer of 2018. Some of the issues were housing, access to resources, safety issues, land use, and education. YUC went out and surveyed the community again and asked, out of the issues listed, which should be addressed first. The surveys showed safety was a priority, but what does safety mean to them, and what could be done to make them feel safer?

That is where research came into play. Once again, members of YUC surveyed residents to better understand what safety means to the community and how to tackle it. Some of the biggest issues involving safety were drugs, crime, trash, and speeding. After further researching what safety means, YUC created a safety framework. 

To read more about the Safety framework, click here to read YUC member Rebecca M. Baret’s opinion piece on policing in Kensington.

Next, we had to identify who had power. We had to make an assessment of who had the power to help us and who could be a potential obstacle during our campaign. YUC identified that the people with the power are city officials. We hope to convince them to make decisions that will benefit our campaign and the residents of Kensington. After gathering that important information, we moved on to our current step — waging our campaign. Eventually, we’ll make it to the evaluating stage, where we’ll identify areas of success and areas that need improvement. From there, we will decide if our campaign was successful and move on or revamp our campaign.

‘Doing a campaign on trash allows us to build connections and secure victories in the community’

trash campaign kensington
McManus (left) and Ellis (right) posing together at Youth United for Change offices. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

Now that I have told you what the campaign is and how we seek to achieve it, you’re probably thinking, “Well, there were other issues, bigger issues, that you guys could have picked. So, why trash?” 

We chose to address the trash problem first because the other issues are more complex. Before we can address those issues, we have to start with less complex ones that still have a major impact on the community.

Kensington has the most litter compared to other parts of Philadelphia. In places like Center City, the streets are relatively clean. But why is that? There are usually a lot of people walking around Center City every day.. For Center City to be so clean while so crowded, the question that arises is, “Why and how is this?” The answer is quite simple actually: investment. City officials have put funds and resources into areas like Center City to provide the neighborhood with trash cans and over one hundred Big Belly trash cans. However, neighborhoods like Kensington do not have access to those resources. In Kensington, there are only eight Big Belly trash cans. For an area as large as Kensington, eight is simply not enough.

Additionally, doing a campaign on trash allows us to build connections and secure victories in the community. This will be beneficial when we wage bigger campaigns because the community will then trust us and be familiar with who we are. When a neighborhood has been discarded and disinvested in by the City, it causes those living in the area to do the same. People begin to feel that if the City or no one else cares, why should they? This feeling is known as alienation, which means residents don’t feel connected to their community and those around them. They begin to lack sympathy and respect toward their neighborhood. Instead of embracing where they live, they detach themselves and want nothing to do with the place they call home. All of it is a direct result of the conditions they have been forced to endure and live in by the City.

As an organization, we believe that keeping Kensington clean should not be the sole responsibility of the residents but primarily the city officials. The residents of Kensington can only keep the area as clean as the resources the City allows. However, there is a lack of resources because the city officials have decided that Kensington is not worth their money. Instead of making the area a safer and sustainable place to live, they look away and put their money elsewhere. The people in charge believe moving in more white people and displacing the Black and Brown residents of Kensington is the solution, but it’s not. They also think that over-policing the neighborhood will cut down on crime, but they are wrong again. The City keeps trying to implement band-aid solutions instead of digging deep, finding the root of the problem, and fixing it. Any doctor knows that putting a bandaid on a deep cut that requires stitches will not be a long-term solution; if anything, it might make things worse. The City must realize that their quick fixes are damaging a community of people. 

The residents of Kensington have lives outside of their homes. They should not be using their free time to clean up their neighborhood. They could be doing other things, such as planting a community garden, throwing block parties, painting murals, or even spending quality time with their family at the playground.. The City thinks that if Kensington residents want a clean neighborhood, it is up to them to find the time to do it themselves. 

We believe that Kensington has a deep history and has been deeply wronged as a community. We believe it is time for the City to put funds back into the neighborhood. We believe the solution is not quick fixes or the expulsion of Black and Brown community members but reinvestment of funds toward the neighborhood. We believe that it is time for the City to take a deeper look at Kensington, right their wrongs, and give residents a community they can proudly call their home.   

Editors: Khysir Carter, Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Henry Savage