After graduating from Penn, some alumni choose not to venture far from their alma mater, opting to remain in Philadelphia, working in the city’s government.
Three Penn alumni are currently members of the Philadelphia City Council. Here’s a brief introduction to each one of them.
City Council member At-Large Helen Gym, 1993 College graduate and 1996 Graduate School of Education graduate:
After spending seven years at Penn, Helen Gym became the first Asian-American to serve on the Philadelphia City Council. She received a major in history and stayed at Penn to receive a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Education. While an undergraduate, Gym was an editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street.
“My time at Penn motivated me to care about issues that affect all communities. Especially minorities,” Gym said.
The Penn Democrats hosted Gym at a general body meeting on Jan. 25 to speak about political activism in the wake of the 2016 election. At that meeting, Gym stated that she “felt emotionally distraught” after the election, spending a full week lamenting the results. But after that brief period of latency, she said she was ready to influence change again.
“It just took some time to get over [Hillary Clinton’s] loss,” she said. “I needed time to figure out [my] next steps.”
On the Philadelphia City Council, Gym focuses on improving public education and mitigating poverty. She said that these issues motivate her “to get out of bed every morning.”
District Two Council member Kenyatta Johnson, 2001 Fels Institute of Government graduate:
Kenyatta Johnson, who graduated with a master’s degree from the Fels Institute of Government, has served on the Philadelphia City Council since 2012.
Gun regulation efforts defined the early part of his political career, in which he started as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2009. After his cousin was murdered, Johnson founded Peace Not Guns, an organization that aims to reduce gun violence through city-wide education efforts. His district encompasses Center City, southwest Philadelphia and the Philadelphia International Airport.
Although Johnson was unavailable to comment, his Special Events Coordinator Tiphanie White commented on the councilman’s current work.
“[Councilman] Johnson is working on a lot of different public relations events and communication projects now,” White said.
White also noted that Johnson is the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities and the Legislative Oversight Committee.
District Nine Council member Cherelle Parker, 2016 Fels Institute of Government graduate:
Like Johnson, Parker attended the Fels Institute of Government, graduating with a master’s degree in public administration in 2016.
“[Going to the Fels Institute] was by far the most valuable investment I made for my professional career,” Parker said.
Parker has served on the Philadelphia City Council since 2015, before which she was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 10 years. She decided to attend Penn while still serving in the House and also campaigning for City Council. Parker said that, although it was challenging to balance school, work, campaigning and family obligations, support from her community allowed her to successfully juggle her many responsibilities.
“My time at Penn taught me to ask the right questions,” Parker said. “I can be more confident and knowledgeable in my work [because I learned] real-world technical skills to implement policies.”