Credit: Matt Rourke / Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday night at Claudia Cohen Hall, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney implored students to work to foster change in the city of Philadelphia.

Penn Big Brothers Big Sisters hosted Kenney, who spoke on a variety of issues, answered students’ questions and offered advice on how to get involved in the community.

“You are never truly happy unless you are in service to others,” said Kenney, who praised the efforts of Penn’s BBBS program throughout his speech.

Kenney emphasized the importance of BBBS to the lives of the children involved. He made clear his view that BBBS mentors can have a major influence on the life paths of the children they guide, using the example of a teenager without a good role model who told Kenney that the best school he had ever gone to was one he attended in jail.

Kenney went on to talk about poverty and the educational system in Philadelphia. He described the people in the lower-income sections of the city as victims of circumstance.

“In those neighborhoods are really good people,” Kenney said. “They are just trapped.”

At the end of the event, he answered student inquiries and expressed his opinions on a range of relevant issues, including the recent immigration ban and President Donald Trump’s comments on crime in the city of Philadelphia. Kenney criticized Trump for exaggerating the danger of Philadelphia streets, citing the city’s historically low homicide rate as evidence that the city is safer than Trump suggests.

College senior Shane Murphy praised Kenney’s proactive approach to education and mentorship.

“It’s important both substantively, because of the nature of the office he holds and the power that he has, and also symbolically,” he said.

Penn BBBS President and College senior Dominique McKnight described Kenney as “one of us,” referring to the mayor’s hands-on efforts to better the city.

“We mainly focus on mentorship, urban education and giving back to the community, and that’s just what the mayor will be talking about,” she said before the event.

Before Kenney spoke to the audience, he was introduced by Marcus Allen, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, who also shared a few remarks of his own. Allen warmed up the crowd by recounting his unlikely rise out of poverty — noting how his mother was homeless when he was born — and then told the audience members that they could positively affect the lives of children in Philadelphia’s impoverished neighborhoods the same way Allen’s mentors affected him when he was growing up.

“Every one of you can have an impact on these kids,” Allen said.

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