A new generation of leaders has emerged to produce tangible impact across Philadelphia. This new energy is expanding economic, health, education and cultural opportunity, positioning Philadelphia as a must-visit destination and a place residents are proud to call home. Fairmount met with Jamira Burley, the 25-year-old Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission (@PhillyYC) in the first installment of Get2Know. This new segment reveals the personal side of young change agents impacting Greater Philadelphia and beyond.
Fairmount: How was your role evolved since being named the youngest executive director of any Philadelphia agency almost two years ago?
Jamira: The last two years I’ve helped take the Youth Commission back to its initial purpose which is policy and prevention, looking at city policy and how it effects people 23 and under, researching how the city treats the youth population, and establishing initiatives to keep young people in Philadelphia.
As my position has evolved I have been able to take some of our Youth Commission work on a national and international scale. We’ve been working with nonprofit organizations in New York City and Washington, D.C. Actually, I just got back to Philly from an unconference in D.C sponsored by Generation Progress. They brought about 120 young people together to identify how we change federal policy as relates to young people.
Fairmount: What Philadelphia Youth Commission initiative are you most proud to have worked on or plan to work on?
Jamira: Gun prevention is one. We are in the process of being engaged in Philadelphia education. We advocate a better funding system from the state. We are also working on changing the health of young people and tackling issues like obesity. We want more opportunities for young people to get engaged in programs that can help improve their life and the lives of people around them.
Fairmount: How have you personally and as a group handled issues with the Philadelphia school system and the impact that has left on Philadelphia’s youth?
Jamira: Our commissioners are from all over the city and many of them are entrenched in the advocacy for the school system. They are on committees, they are in direct service, they have written letters to leaders and created blog content on the state of the current school district. Three specific areas are engagement, advocacy, and informing. We all recognize that there are many flaws in the current school system but we realize that until the school system is fully funded we cant expect the school district to run fully.
Fairmount: What barriers are preventing Philadelphia’s youth from maximizing their potential?
Jamira: I would say one of the biggest barriers is education. Education is a huge equalizer. Some people are coming from areas that are extremely improvised and go to a class with 40 students and a teacher unable to engage them. We need a better education system to create the tools and skills needed to be successful.
Fairmount: Clearly you have a strong desire to create impact and have done so already at a young age. What advice do you have for people and organizations looking to create impact?
Jamira: I would say knowing your constituency. A lot of times people assume what young people want without really consulting them. I continue to try to engage young people and go where they are. I meet with them by going to their school or meeting with them in my office – anywhere we can connect.
If you want to make an impact, know your consistency. I would say that it’s not just me but our commissioners who do this. We engage people with wide backgrounds, in addition to being smart, so they can go back and serve neighborhoods and people who can identify with them.
Fairmount: What’s your greatest struggle as a Gen Y leader to align people to your initiatives?
Jamira: Many people look at young people and think ‘they don’t have experience.’ I try not to let people’s prejudices effect me. Instead I try to let people judge me on my work. I think if you do good work it adds legitimacy when you raise concerns or voice your thoughts. I think some young people have better ideas when it comes to youth-oriented isses than older adults.
Fairmount: What do you many people not understand or know about Philadelphia’s youth?
Jamira: I think people like to place them in one box. ‘They’re all flashmobbers. They all don’t want to get an education.’ One thing I learned is Philadelphia’s youth are resilient. We embrace challenges and we fight back to create solutions. I don’t know many youth in Philadelphia not engaged in one way or somewhere. More youth in Philadelphia want a better city and I am trying to create more active ways to do that.
Fairmount: Is there anything you’d like to say that we haven’t touched on?
Jamira: I hope people don’t lose faith in Philadelphia’s youth because there is so much potential. They’re brilliant people.
Jamira is too modest to brag, so we’ll do it for her. Jamira has been ranked as one of the top-10 up-and-coming Philadelphians by the Philadelphia Daily News. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Huffington Post, BET, and Philadelphia Tribune. Jamira is poised to create impact for a long time.
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