Some consider Philadelphia to be the birthplace of independence. When outsiders hear “Philadelphia,” they may think of Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin or the Liberty Bell. Imagining the star-spangled banner waving above Independence Hall in center city, tourists cannot help but envision Philadelphia as this promised land of freedom, cheese steaks and water ice.
I used to be one of these naive Americans who visited Philadelphia only on class trips, when the price of visiting New York was too high. We’d take tours and play on the cobblestone streets of Olde City, giggling and planning our lives in this beautiful city. When I received my acceptance letter to Temple University in January of 2006, I thought I would be spending the next four years in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Until reality hit.
Temple, which is situated just minutes from the cobblestone and nostalgia associated with Olde City, is also just seconds from project housing and poverty-ridden street corners. I was finally exposed to the shootings and drug abuse that I had only heard about on the six o’clock news while sitting comfortably in my middle class home and thinking, “That doesn’t actually happen. Dramatization.”
I was asked daily for spare change and I was naive enough to believe the money would be used for food. That was until I saw a man who I had given change to earlier in the day hop into a BMW and drive off. Needless to say, my generosity was limited from that point on. I became street smart, constantly keeping my eyes open but never letting someone catch my gaze. I would walk with my headphones on but keeping the volume low enough so I could hear a threat coming. I became…Philly-fied.
Last night, I attended the 4th of July celebration held at the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art. We enjoyed our evening and after the fireworks display, the crowd made a mad dash for the subway. We decided to sit and wait for the crowd to pass. While waiting, we saw a friend and struck up a conversation. Suddenly, the entire crowd ran toward us and our friend sprinted in the opposite direction. As the crowd rushed past us, we saw a brawl breaking out between two teenage Philadelphians. One grabbed a glass beer bottle off of the Ben Franklin Parkway and that was all I needed to see. As someone who has been Philly-fied, I know when a small situation is capable of progressing into a news-worthy special report. I grabbed my friend who is new to the area (remembering back to my first year in Philadelphia) and we ran to a safe distance. Although the fight was broken up, it was clear to me that my ability to assess a dangerous situation quickly can be explained only by my experience in the City of Brotherly “Love.”
Sirens, gun shots and street brawls may have fazed me in 2006, but after four years, I am officially a city girl. And despite the fracas on the 4th of July, the fireworks were absolutely stunning.
Thank you, Philadelphia, for keeping me on my toes.