When the businessman (FS Investments co-founder Michael Forman), the union leader (building trades council head Ryan Boyer), and the politician (City Councilperson Maria Quiñones-Sánchez) walked onto the stage Wednesday morning, it was already clear something different was afoot.
For one thing: It is all too rare in Philly to find collaboration among our civic leaders from different sectors. For another: The three speakers at The Citizen’s Business … for Good event made clear that, in working together, our business, labor and government leaders can pave the way for a more prosperous and equitable future for Philadelphians.
What will that take? A common understanding of the goals — like providing living wage jobs for Philadelphians, an education system that sets children up for success, a quality of life that makes people who have a choice make the choice to live in Philly. And a common understanding that everyone has a role to play.
“It is cheaper for us to send juniors and seniors to community college than to keep them in underperforming high schools. If we do things differently we’ll get a different return,” said Quiñones-Sánchez
“You’re all here and I’d ask you all what you are doing to make change?” Forman asked the crowd of about 85 people at Fitler Club. “Who’s holding the D.A. responsible for upholding laws? We all need to hold our elected officials accountable or there’s not going to be a very bright future for Philadelphia.”
“We need a Philadelphia political wing that will have policies that work for Philadelphia,” Boyer said. “If you don’t put Philadelphia first we won’t put you first.”
Forman and Boyer are co-founders of Equity Alliance, formed in wake of George Floyd’s murder with the aim of driving “equitable, inclusive, and resilient economic growth in Philadelphia” by joining together business, labor, civic groups and government. They also aim to tackle gun violence, education, arts and entertainment and government inclusivity — so, more or less everything.
There is a long game in Philadelphia, all three acknowledged: Creating a school system that works for everyone, something Quiñones-Sánchez used as an example of the fundamental change needed in how we operate. “What frustrates me is that throwing good money after bad policy is not going to make positive change,” she said. For instance: “It is cheaper for us to send juniors and seniors to community college than to keep them in underperforming high schools. If we do things differently we’ll get a different return.”
And there is a short game: “Workers need a raise right now,” Boyer said. “We’re either going to prioritize people and jobs or we’re not. If you’re going to prioritize people you give them a raise.”
The conversation, which included questions from the audience, was one of those times when it seemed like everything could come together, that with the right people leading the way, Philly could become a world-class city that is growing equitably and prosperously for all.
As Forman said: “We deeply believe it’s time for Philadelphia to send a message of optimism and hope.”