By Kofi Poku
Eight students from Camden, N.J. were invited to the College to speak in the Spiritual Center about their experiences living in one of America’s most dangerous cities this past Wednesday.
The eight students are a part of Urban Promise, a Christian-based organization created to help youth in Camden. It gives city children a place where they can be accepted and supported when that may not be possible at home.
“It’s like a big family,” said Shakeera Avant, one of the street leaders of Urban Promise. She and the other seven street leaders spoke about the effect that Urban Promise had on their lives.
“They placed me in a place I wasn’t very comfortable with,” Jason Do said. “It opened my mind. You don’t understand their situation. It helped me not to judge people.”
The student panel was introduced by Stephanie Kraver, president of the student organization, Cure for Camden. She emphasized the purpose of the discussion forum.
“We invited these students to our campus to give the youth from Camden, a voice at the College, and to advocate for reciprocity — a cooperative relationship built on common understanding — where we can learn from others, and about ourselves.” Stephanie said.
A 30-minute clip was shown from the documentary, “Poet of Poverty.” The 2008 documentary followed Father Michael Doyle, a priest who has lived in Camden for 40 years, and his experiences dealing with Camden’s problems.
The student panel did not like how Camden was portrayed in the documentary. The clip shown from the documentary focused on the sewage that goes through the city and how that affects the lives of Camden’s residents.
“I think the people in the movie were over exaggerating because they had cameras on them,” Josh Williams said. “I think the majority of Camden is a beautiful city.”
The panel closed with several questions from the audience. One audience member asked the Urban Promise members where they see themselves 20 years from now.
“I’ll come back to help Camden itself. Why is Camden being worse and worse? Because nobody is coming back after they are successful. They are making Camden worse,” Do said.
The student panel was also asked about what they would change about Camden if they could.
“How people look at Camden. They have a bad perspective on Camden.” Emanuel Gonzalez said.
Camden was rated in 2009 as one of the United States’ most dangerous cities. Stephanie Kraver challenged the audience to think about this.
“I challenge you to view the despair that surrounds Camden as a national problem — the 58 million gallons of sewage that infiltrates the city each day and permeates its air, the 30-40 percent unemployment rate,” Kraver said. “Our country and its institutions fail the people of Camden.”