Before coming to Penn, I was beyond excited to finally live in a truly cosmopolitan and metropolitan city, in spite of a slew of comments from people that Philadelphia is a gritty and rough city. I largely ignored these comments, but after a short time here, I quickly realized that many students feel similarly. A lot of people remark that Philadelphia's no New York or Boston. I only got here last August, yet I completely agree. Of course, this city is no New York or Boston. It's uniquely Philadelphia.
My favorite pastime at Penn has been exploring all the beautiful and hidden corners of this deeply interesting city. One of my favorite memories from first semester was going to the Barnes Foundation with my friends. I was amazed that we easily have access to an illustrious collection of modern European art created by renowned artists such as Matisse, Picasso, and Van Gogh. While waiting for our time slot to enter the museum, we went to a used bookstore across the street where there were hundreds of peculiar books, magazine prints, and other trinkets. I proudly walked away with a thrifted book on the psychology of love and a laminated map of Philadelphia, both under $5.
During another walk around the city when my parents visited, I noticed something else: There is an unusually high amount of public art and murals. "A People’s Progression Towards Equality," a mural in Center City painted by Jack Ramsdale and Jared Bader, struck me as especially meaningful. Atop the mural, the words “WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE, WITH CHARITY FOR ALL” reaffirm the image depicted below it. Both white and Black citizens are participating collaboratively in the construction of the "Colossal Lincoln," which represents a united movement toward equal rights for all. I didn’t know it at the time, but Philadelphia is widely known for having one of the best public art collections of any American city. I knew then that this art is a uniquely powerful reflection of this city’s values, its history, and its progression into the future.
Similarly, the art reflects the city’s strong dedication to its sports teams. Just across the Walnut Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River, there is an intricate mural of the Phillies baseball organization. The artist, David McShane, is a lifelong Phillies fan, and the mural includes “players, stadiums, and events from the Phillies’ record-long history as the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports.”
The art, both within the museums and on the city’s walls, reflects the broader theme that Philadelphia has a rich history and special culture. I don’t just mean the colonial history, such as Philadelphia’s being the capital and home to George Washington and the home to the Liberty Bell; I also mean the history of other important historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who began his research for the groundbreaking “The Philadelphia Negro” in 1896 while he was appointed as an assistant instructor here at Penn. Beyond that, Philadelphia is home to other cultural and historical realities such as the boxing tradition that has progressed from Rocky to Creed. Even many modern-day artists, such as Kevin Hart, Meek Mill, Diplo, and Lil Uzi Vert hail from this city.
Philadelphia is also known to have an extremely dedicated fanbase for all of its sports, particularly for its football and basketball teams, the Eagles and 76ers. If the City’s reaction to the Eagles’ winning the 2018 Super Bowl, which included daylong celebrations, parades, and chaos throughout the streets, isn’t a testament to their fans' fierce loyalty, I don’t know what could be. Although I just mentioned popular artists and fans who exhibit Philadelphia’s culture, there are many athlete icons too, such as Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant. This “grit,” a word initially used to paint Philadelphia in a negative light, has an entirely different meaning to me now. Gritty, just as is represented by the Philadelphia Flyers mascot, is not negative by any means. Having grit means having courage, loyalty, and tenacity.
I think we should have more pride in the fact that we get to call Philadelphia our home. Many of us Penn students may not live here after college, but I feel certain that Philadelphia will have imparted its grit and creativity onto us in various ways. Penn students should take pride in these qualities, invest in them, and be part of the tradition to perpetuate them.
ALLISON SANTA-CRUZ is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Jackson, Miss. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.