Philly has some serious challenges. Let’s celebrate those public servants rising to meet them. By Blair Glencorse & Sara Hoenes
t’s tough in Philadelphia right now. Covid-19 is spreading, with well over 20,000 cases in the city and with effects that are exacerbating existing inequalities: Racial injustices continue while free speech in response seems to be under threat, and even professional sports remains on hold.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party are suing Pennsylvania to force changes in how the state collects and counts mail-in ballots ahead of the presidential election in November.
But amid the chaos, there are some incredible individuals who are doing the right thing, fixing these problems and working to make the city a better place, even when no-one is watching.
In early March, Accountability Lab, along with the Philadelphia Citizen, WURD Radio and other partners, launched a campaign called Integrity Icon to “name and fame” Philly’s most honest government officials. We asked Philadelphians from across the city to nominate public service heroes, and despite everything that has happened in the past four months, we haven’t been disappointed.
So far, we’ve received dozens of nominations from across government (for public servants, not elected officials) and have been truly inspired by their work during these difficult times.
The nominees include the dedicated principal of a high school who turned the school’s record around by creating a college and career readiness curriculum. As a result, the school has achieved a 95-percent graduation rate (well above the city average of 70 percent).
There’s also a public school teacher who created a program to register high school seniors to vote, as an effort to increase youth civic participation and combat low voter turnout; and a director at the Department of Commerce who expanded lab spaces so that the City of Philadelphia could keep up with cell and gene therapy.
Also on the list is a District Attorney’s Office employee, who is bridging the gap between communities and the police; an employee of the Chief Integrity Office who has created engaging training for her colleagues in the city on the importance of their role in spotting fraud; and an outstanding social studies teacher and administrator who inspires civic activism among her students. She also coordinated a voter education day for over 500 Philadelphia high school seniors.
Nominations are open for another three weeks, until July 31, so nominate your Integrity Icon today and help us celebrate and lift up people in government who are making all of our lives better.
We’re looking in particular for public servants working in and around the Covid-19 response; and who are pushing to support racial justice within government and our society. We will profile the top five winners in the media towards the end of the summer, turn them into celebrities, and then work with them to build a network of reformers who can make our government better.
We celebrate athletes, musicians and film stars—why not nurses who are working overtime to make sure Covid-19 funding is spent effectively; teachers who are preparing our next generation of voters; or police officers who are building trust in communities?
It’s easy to catch people doing the wrong thing. How about we catch them doing the right thing for once, especially now when we need these people more than ever?
What we have found in other countries where we have run this campaign—like South Africa, for example—is that Integrity Icon not only inspires the Icons themselves and fills citizens with hope that things can get better, but it actually begins to change the way we understand the problems themselves. If we can lift ordinary people up for living by their values and doing their job with integrity, we can actually begin to shift the way government functions.
So, we need your help. Nominations are open for another three weeks, through July 31, and we’re hoping to find at least another 30 incredible public service heroes from Philly.
The nomination form is quick and easy to fill out; and five lucky people that nominate an Icon will be chosen by lottery to receive some much sought after Accountability Lab swag, including a mug and branded face mask.
There is no time to waste. Nominate an Integrity Icon in Philadelphia today and help us “name and fame” the city’s best. We promise you it will make us all feel better about the future—and make that future a better one for all of us too.
Blair Glencorse is executive director of Accountability Lab and Sara Hoenes is a Lab Fellow and Integrity Icon Philadelphia Lead. This article was originally published in The Philadelphia Citizen.