Beginning today, Philadephia once again is hosting an historic event that will draw the eyes of the world upon us. Major news outlets, Democratic political leaders, delegates and spectators – they will all be on hand as we nominate the first female presidential candidate from a major political party. The First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress, the Congress of the Confederation and, ultimately, the first United States Congress all met in Philadelphia to debate the future of the colonies and the ideals on which this new country would be founded – principles that have guided, but not always governed, our nation.
The hypocrisy of those men who gathered here – the country's Founding Fathers – is truly stunning. While they set about drafting beautiful prose on the inalienable rights of men, many of these same authors owned slaves. While they mused about "We the people," they no doubt did not for a moment consider the inclusion of women in that iconic phrase. As they crafted, debated and edited the framework of this seminal democratic experiment, the right to vote was still too far off for far too many. In the ensuing years, decades and centuries, men and women of conscience have pushed, pulled, marched, and demanded that the words written in that hot summer on Independence Mall be interpreted to include them and the generations that followed.
As 50,000 people descend on Philadephia to once again make history, it's important that we seek to avoid the same type of hypocrisy that bedeviled our founders. Right now, Philadephia retains the distinct title of the poorest major city in the country. We still face a crisis in many of our public schools, including overcrowding and underfunding. The plague of violence too frequently falls upon families across the city. Access to quality affordable housing is still unattainable for a large swath of Philadlephians, including folks like my friends, family and neighbors right here in North Philly.
As my mom would say, "Hiding the dirt doesn't clean it... Now get up there and really clean your room." We're getting some company and, while we must celebrate the chance to showcase the city we love and the gains made, we mustn't do it at the expense of the truth. We have some cleaning to do. Pretending we don't for a few days won't work. We can't ignore the fact that too many communities still suffer under the weight of blight and disinvestment. We can't listen to the speeches inside the Wells Fargo Center and ignore the very valid concerns raised by those who will be protesting outside and around the city. In communities like North Philly and across the country, people are hurting, and the prospect of hope can feel like a mirage.
It doesn't dampen our civic pride to be blunt about the issues we face. Even in a city this dynamic, even as crane after crane embellishes the skyline – and even at a moment this pivotal – the truth is, a lot of people still feel shut out and let down by the American Dream. The truth is, we have a long way to go to draw eyes and action to historically underserved communities: Just look at the string of murders of transgendered women. The scourge of gun violence of all kinds is still pervasive, claiming lives across our neighborhoods, including that of a young man after a basketball gamein Southwest Philly; his family is still hurting, and that's the truth. We must use this moment to educate policymakers throughout the Democratic Party about the very real challenges we face and the urgency to figure it out – now.
It's on each of us: When you find yourself in conversation with one of our visitors, take the time to highlight our challenges alongside our triumphs. Attend the meetings that are open to the public at the Convention Center, talk about our tremendous history and bright future – but don't ignore our neighborhoods and people who still don't feel either.
The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection is being called on once again to play a role in shaping the future of our country. That is an honor, but it's also a responsibility. If anyone should reflect the highest ideals of America, it must be us.