Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Jan 31, 2011

Political Candidates are Coming out of Public Housing Closet

By Rosemary Reeves

When I was younger I aspired to run for Philadelphia City Council.  But after some time, I realized my background would not stand up to public scrutiny.  My family had lived in a housing project and I had been a runaway at fourteen.  Most candidates for political office came from privileged families with valuable connections to influential people.  They could hold fundraisers at their spacious homes.  Many were groomed from an early age to enter politics.  My father was a manual laborer with an eighth grade education. No one in my family ever went to college, except me.  I remember thinking, what chance does someone like me have in politics?  The press would have a field day digging up all the unsavory things about my life.  No one would vote for me.
Until recently, there was a great deal of shame associated with living in the projects.  So much so, that if you were able to leave public housing, it became a part of your past best left unmentioned.  To escape stigma, generations of successful people have lived with the shameful secret of having once lived in public housing.  Today, they are not only coming out of the closet, they are entering politics because of, or in spite of, their public housing past.
Rick Scott, who lived in public housing as a child, not only became a multi-millionaire, but governor of Florida.  Diedre Cole ran for City Commissioner of Sandusky, Ohio while a public housing tenant and won.  Now, a former resident of Cabrini-Green, Dr. Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, is running for Mayor of Chicago.
According to an article by Will Guzzardi in The Huffington Post, “Dr. Watkins was born poor and raised hard, moving from row house to tiny apartment until her family settled in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project when she was seven.  Young Trish turned to drugs and alcohol before her thirteenth birthday” but later “turned her life around” to help the poor and the underserved.
Political candidates with public housing roots are a special breed. They have the uncommon capability to reinvent themselves once they have fallen and to forge greatness out of nothing.  Most of all, they possess unwavering faith in the fairness of our democratic system despite having once been marginalized.  Will they make better politicians?  That’s something we’re all waiting to see.

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