Photo by Daniel R. Burke
Every Wednesday, Beandrea Davis (C03) leaves Penn behind and travels to Edison High School in North Philly.
In lives of the students there, Davis said, she sees a world that could have been hers.
It makes me appreciate things Ive been given, said Davis, a French and Afro-American Studies major who spent 11th and 12th grades at a selective boarding school in Connecticut. To her, its just an accident of fate that she grew up with the parents she has, getting the education she got.
Davis, along with three other Penn undergraduate women, leads a discussion group at Edison called Girl Talk. Theyve been working with the same group of 10 to 15 sophomore and junior girls since last spring.
These girls are stellar people, Davis said. You read all these books like Jonathan Kozols Savage Inequalities and you think, Oh, its horrible. And a lot of the things he talks about are there, but people are beyond whats written in books. Most of the Girl Talk girls plan to go to college. Some are taking AP classes. They are singers, actresses, basketball players, and one girl is doing research at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
But they have had to overcome a lot. At least two girls in the group, probably more, have been pregnant. Theres this one really smart girl, college-bound, and both of her brothers are in prison. said Davis. The girls are incredibly resilient.
Davis has a family connection to Philadelphia her grandmother still lives in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia. Davis participated in PennCorps, a freshman orientation program based on community service. And in her second semester at Penn, two classes helped her find her niche.
The first class was Urban Universities-Community Relationships, an academically-based community service (ABCS) course taught by Ira Harkavy, director of the Center for Community Partnerships. The second was another ABCS course, taught by a graduate student and called Girl Talk: Race, Class and Gender in Philadelphia.
We learned about inequality in the urban public schools, all this common everyday injustice. Schools arent serving the kids who need the best education. Its nonsense for me to sit by and know that and not try to do anything.
She started doing Girl Talk at Edison that semester. In the past year, the group has discussed college, careers, family relationships, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault, and a lot of getting-to-know-you stuff.
Davis is also the tutoring and mentoring liaison of the Civic House Associates Coalition, a group that connects different community service efforts. She focuses on training volunteers, getting people to examine their motivations for doing service and thinking about volunteering as a life-changing experience. After graduation, Davis plans to teach high school and college, and hopes to help develop ABCS curricula at other urban universities.
She said that working at Edison made her confront her own background. I was scared that the kids would see me as this sell-out kind of person because were all [people of color], but Im, you know, on the other side. But I realized that it would be stupid for me to pretend that I didnt get a good education. Kids are really smart, and they know whats going on anyway. What matters, I think, is that you keep an attitude of humility.
Originally published on March 1, 2001