A collective of celebrities, educators and elected officials came together to raise awareness around physical and mental well-being at the “Town Hall Meeting on Health,” recently hosted by the GrassROOTS Community Foundation at Lingelbach Elementary School.
The town hall was the prelude to GrassROOTS’ 5th annual “Let’s Move It: Philly Dance Party Fundraiser” — which featured performances by the Roots’ Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter, also a co-founder of GrassROOTS, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Rich Medina — in an effort to raise money for an extracurricular health program at Lingelbach.
“People like a party but people don’t often get there are real faces behind it,” said Janice Johnson Dias, Ph.D., president of GrassROOTS. “People say, ‘It’s a party with a purpose,’ but what’s the purpose? Who are the people? So the town hall is the purpose in the party. We hear from the people — what their thoughts and ideas are.”
The town hall included a set of vendors, exercise demonstrations, musical performances and a panel discussion centered on improving community health.
The panel consisted of Lingelbach students and celebrities, including hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, Aja Dantzler of Kindred the Family Stone, radio personality Laiya St. Clair and television producer Mona Scott-Young. Elected officials City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey and state Sen. Art Haywood also served on the panel.
“We have to re-educate ourselves that we eat to live as opposed to living to eat,” said Kweli. “Eating healthier in the long run will be cheaper for you to live. We have to see ourselves as too important to eat junk food. We have to see ourselves as being worth more.”
Kweli’s sentiments were shared by Lingelbach students who agreed people needed to exercise more and cut back on junk food.
Panelists also stressed the importance of community involvement in pushing this message, especially to the youth.
“What’s important is what is done with these [youth’s] minds when they are out in the world,” said Dantzler. “I would love to see you all make that commitment. I challenge all of us that we implement all of these ideas by letting your voices continue to be heard.”
Speaking to mental and emotional health, St. Clair, formerly of Hot 107.9, told the female youth, “Remember who you are. We are queens.”
She then advised the males in the room they should be a positive “male influence” in the lives of young women who did not already have one.
Another major part of the town hall was the announcement GrassROOTS will begin a “public health and social action program, LEAVES,” at Lingelbach, for female students next school year; and the proceeds from the Let’s Move It: Philly! dance party would be donated to the school for a yet-to-be-determined program.
GrassROOTS made the decision to donate the party funds after it was reported last fall the school was allotted $160 for its discretionary budget — money used for supplemental items like books and supplies and, more importantly, after-school programs.
“We decided to make that the focus of our party of this year … to help [fund] the school broadly,” said Dias. She added what the funds will be used for has not been determined, but GrassROOTS will meet with Lingelbach to make the decision.
“It’s definitely something that’s needed and we are very excited to have the organization coming to our school,” said Jeanelle Lawson, head of the school’s Home and School Association.
Lawson added the school was “extremely appreciative” of the community rallying around it in such a way, but the state and the school district needed to be more accountable in funding the schools.
“For me, it’s a double-edged sword because we are a public school, not a private school and not a charter school, and it’s the school district and the state’s responsibility to fully fund our school,” she said. “While we want community involvement, I just want to be very careful and [tread] a thin line in which the district, state and School Reform Commission (SRC) say, ‘They did it themselves and can do it themselves.’”
Trotter, of the Roots, said he anticipates GrassROOTS efforts will bring more attention to the school’s plight.
“The importance of us rallying around this issue is to create more awareness, so hopefully some action can be taken in order to prevent schools like Lingelbach from going away,” he said. “I’m a prime example of what after-school programs, music programs and art programs in school have the potential to [do]. For me it was an escape.
“If not for the safety of the program available to me in [the] Philly public school system, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
-The Philadelphia Tribune – Samaria Bailey Tribune Correspondent