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We Love Philly strives to empower ownership in high school students. Photo courtesy: Carlos Aponte 
We Love Philly strives to empower ownership in high school students. Photo courtesy: Carlos Aponte 

Using a shipping container to teach Black and Latinx students ownership in the face of gentrification

We Love Philly is raising money to transform a shipping container into a livable space to rent so students can earn a profit.

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Hidden in the jungle

May 26th, 2022

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Planning for a life after high school is no small investment, but it is a concerning one for many low income and minority high school students looking to continue their education or provide for themselves. 

We Love Philly’s Executive Director Carlos Aponte, created Project Ownership earlier this year to provide students with an outlet to understand gentrification in Philadelphia and give them the tools needed to face adversity. 

The project will allow 70 high school students identifying as either Latinx or African-American to transform a shipping container into a livable space that students will be able to earn profits from and invest in their future. 

“Students saw gentrification happening in their neighborhoods and wanted to know what this meant and why it was happening,” Aponte said. “After giving them the reality that this isn’t going to stop, we decided instead of complaining about it that we would instead figure out how we can turn this into a purpose to get our community involved in this change.” 

We Love Philly is a non-profit created by Aponte, a certified History teacher, in late 2018, with the goal to empower minority students with positive community experiences and teach them how to navigate life and equip them with essential life skills.

“Personally I was trying to figure out how to be a more effective teacher because I’ve just seen over the years that the education system isn’t set up to the best of its capabilities in order to put the students first,” Aponte said. “We really want to give students the space to create an environment for social and emotional learning that they don’t get growing up in Philadelphia with so much violence, crime and poverty.”

Through We Love Philly’s Project Ownership, students will be able to earn a profit through one of two ways. 

They will either earn an hourly wage through Philadelphia Youth Network, an organization focused on alleviating poverty and promoting equity through education and employment, or have ownership of the property to rent out on Airbnb. 

“It’s so important for Latinx and African American students to be able to have this kind of resource to earn an investment for their future and to learn ownership skills,” Aponte said.

He spoke of his own experience growing up and the impact of someone guiding his own learning of such skills.

“I’m Puerto Rican and I understand, I grew up in a very similar situation and you just need someone to lead the way, someone to come from where you come from to show you that there can be a light in that darkness,” said Aponte.

Although the units are not projected to begin construction at One Art Community Center until after the program has reached its intended $25,000 goal, Aponte hopes to see the project reach many more students. 

As of June 1, We Love Philly is well on its way, with $20,000 of its goal already raised. 

“I know that it will be a big driving force to be independent and to not only take ownership of your life, but your environment,” Aponte said. “In a perfect world, I see this project being available to all students in different high schools as an after school program so they can learn the value of these ownership skills.” 

He hopes the project will empower students to overcome gentrification and poverty within their own neighborhoods, but also said there is always a need for more resources for Latinx and African-American students.

Like himself, it often starts with one person willing to make the change. 

“Just show up and mentor some of these students,” Aponte said, “go show them that there are people in the community that care.”  

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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