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Award-winning actor Hill Harper addresses Philly community on engagement

(Photo Left) Actor and Author Hill Harper speaking at the School District of Philadelphia as part of Family Engagement Month. 

Speaking on community engagement Oct. 13 at the School District of Philadelphia, actor, author, philanthropist Hill Harper provided what was less a speech than a sermon

“Preach!” yelled a voice from the audience, when Harper said, of educators who don’t relate to young people’s interests, “We want them to do well but only on our terms.”

Harper won an NAACP Image Award for his role on “CSI: NY” (2004 – 2013) and currently stars in ABC’s “The Good Doctor.” He was valedictorian of his class at Brown University and received both a law degree and a master’s of public administration from Harvard University. His book, “Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny,” was the first of his several New York Times Bestsellers.

But on this morning, Harper was a man on a mission: to rouse people into action as part of the District’s observance of Family Engagement Month. During his 45-minute address, Harper spared no stone, or participant, with his critique on the state of education.

Commenting on the District’s newly designed headquarters, Harper wondered aloud whether as much had been put into rehabbing schools.

Several times, Harper begged teachers and others in education who did not have a passion for their job or for the advancement of young people to, “Please quit tomorrow.” And when the moderator posed a question about one of the superintendent’s priorities, Harper questioned of William Hite, who had removed himself from the audience, “Where’d he go, anyway?”

Harper runs the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation which works with youths in the areas of mentoring, academic achievement, college access and social and physical development. He spoke on how he tries to engage students in a way that naturally keeps them off of their cell phones during sessions.

“Many of us will show up to talk about education, but we won’t actually learn what the young people that we’re trying to educate are actually interested in,” Harper said. To test the audience, he spoke the lyric: “Last night took an L.” A smattering of voices responded on cue, “but tonight I bounce back.”  (To take an L is slang for losing in competition.)

For the confused in the audience, Harper explained that the lines were from rapper Big Sean. And the song was one he used with students to illustrate the character of “being able to be resilient and overcome obstacles.”

“How arrogant is this whole auditorium to sit here and say that I am interested in educating young people, but I have no idea about what they’re actually into?” he said, “How can you connect with a young person if you don’t know who they are?”

Harper also reminded the audience, “The number-one determining factor of school performance is parental engagement and involvement.” Talking isn’t enough, he noted, when action is required.

The eyes of scores of parents and community members, newly inspired by Harper’s words, continued to follow him, even as he finished his speech and left the room.

 

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Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.

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