Civic Action

Five Challenges for Philadephia High Schoolers

February 9, 2017  • Zach St. Louis

The room in Ballroom at the Ben was filled with energy, enthusiasm, and the cheers of the 160 high school students and 40 educators who were there to receive a charge: Make the world a better place. The Aspen Challenge, an annual program that provides inspiration and tools for young people to design solutions to the world’s most critical issues, kicked off in Philadelphia with a full day of speakers — including bestselling author MK Asante, constitutional expert Jeffrey Rosen, and Philly native musician and author Questlove — many of whom issued a challenge to the teams of students in the room. The challenges came from industry experts and ask the students to consider and combat some of the most pressing problems in their community. The teams, from 20 high schools across the city’s public school district, have eight weeks to design a solution that tackles one of the challenges. Below, watch the five challenges issued to students at the opening forum of the Aspen Challenge Philadelphia last week.

Challenge 1: Komal Ahmad

Komal Ahmad is the founder and CEO of Copia, a company working to eradicate hunger and reduce food waste by using technology to redirect surplus food from businesses and events to feed those in need. Her challenge to the students was to follow her lead and bring sustainable food practices to Philadelphia.

Challenge 2: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is a professor and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the founding chair of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. He challenged the students to bring the habits of good nutrition, regular exercise, and emotional health to their community.

Challenge 3: Reverend Jeffrey Brown

Reverend Brown is a nationally recognized expert in gang, youth, and urban violence reduction and coalition building. He is also the founder of RECAP, a new organization created to assist cities in building better partnerships between community, government, and law enforcement agencies to reduce gang violence. He asked the students to change the culture of violence in their neighborhoods by making nonviolence cool.

Challenge 4: Shari Davis

Shari Davis is responsible for the strategic development and managing of network building at the Participatory Budgeting Project. She told the students about the importance of finances for young people and challenged them to empower their peers to make financial decisions that create racial equity and redefine democracy.

Challenge 5: J.T. Reager

J.T. Reager is an earth scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and studies the earth’s water cycle. His challenge to the students was to help the environment by empowering their community to keep the health of the planet in their daily consciousness.

On March 29, 2017, the students will come back together for a competition where they will present their work to a panel of judges. The judges decide on the top teams based on their creativity, feasibility, sustainability, and teamwork, and those teams will be invited to present their projects at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival, taking place from June 22 to July 1.