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On Friday, February 21, 2020, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia convened the local community, business and government leaders, and professionals for Neighborhoods that Thrive: Creating Safe and Health Neighborhoods, a Roadmap for Growth issue forum.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and National Executive Director, Mothers in Charge, opened the program with a video describing the way gun violence has impacted her life. Johnson-Speight started Mothers in Charge in 2003 after her 24-year-old son was murdered during a dispute over a parking spot. In light of her son’s death, Johnson-Speight asserted that violence is a major public health epidemic in our city — and a leading cause of death for young Black men. She asked the audience to consider: “No one is safe until we all are safe. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to save a life today?'”

A panel of regional experts then addressed how social determinants of community health and well-being — including gun violence, safe and affordable housing, access to quality education, health care, healthy food, and more — can impact the economic vitality of those neighborhoods and the future of their residents. We’ve rounded up three of the biggest takeaways from this Roadmap for Growth issue forum:

1. Invest in the local economy.

A healthy neighborhood strongly depends on a thriving local economy. Raynard Washington, Chief Epidemiologist, Department of Public Health, City of Philadelphia, emphasized the significance of “community economics,” which examines the lack of investment in our city’s poorest neighborhoods, in considering how to address health and safety.

As an example, Washington cited the lack of grocery stores in low-income communities, which limits access to healthy food and subsequently contributes to increases in diet-related health problems. Investing in the commercial corridors of low-income neighborhoods can improve access to other essential resources like education services, child care, recreation, and more.

2. Acknowledge the humanity of the communities struggling with poverty.

Representative Jordan Harris, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, stressed the importance of acknowledging the demographic makeup of communities that experience high poverty rates — Black and Brown communities tend to receive less investments and resources compared to neighborhoods that are predominantly White and middle-class.

When she considers the city’s trauma services, Dr. Elizabeth Datner, Chair, Emergency Department, Einstein Healthcare Network, has seen firsthand that those outside of low-income communities often become jaded to the issues, leading to missed opportunities to intervene in the lives of men, women, and children experiencing physical violence and other trauma.

Organizations like AmeriHealth Caritas are implementing initiatives that examine marginalized communities in order to provide more equitable care. Danielle Brooks, Director of Health Equity, AmeriHealth Caritas urged other organizations and businesses with similar initiatives to not only look at the statistics, but to look at the everyday lives of the individuals in these communities.

3. Work collectively across the public private sector.

Abraham Gutman, Writer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, suggested Philadelphia businesses convene to work together with the City to improve public safety. Gutman described Chicago’s recent strategy to diminish gun violence and reduce its homicide rate; universities, businesses, and other organizations raised $75 million to fund a unified strategy.

In response, Representative Harris detailed the millions of dollars that are invested into the City, but lamented the inconsistent allocation of resources and noted the number of organizations providing the same services without working together to coordinate positive outcomes.

At the local level, Washington noted that we all should think beyond what the City is doing by supporting the businesses and organizations that are providing opportunities in neighborhoods. In regards to helping returning citizens, many local organizations offer resources like diversion services, re-entry programs, and education support across the city. Currently, Einstein Healthcare Network offers voter registration and education in their facilities and there are organizations like Mothers in Charge which offer services in anger management, behavioral help, and grief support.

Thank you to our sponsors, speakers, our moderator, Charles D. Ellison, Executive Producer and Host, Reality Check, and our host, the Ronald McDonald House of West Philadelphia.

PHL Neighborhood Growth Project

Creating Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is a key policy pillar of the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project’s Inclusive Growth agenda. Learn more:

Roadmap for Growth Action Team

The Roadmap for Growth Action Team is a multi-disciplined group of Chamber members and partners that leverages resources and relationships to develop and assist in the implementation of the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project policy agenda that promotes economic growth and prosperity, in every neighborhood across Philadelphia.

Connect with Anna Bohl-Fabian at or (215) 790-3684 to learn more.