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Rick Krajewski is a West Philadelphia neighbor, criminal justice organizer, educator, and artist running for State Representative in the 188th State House District.  Harrison Brink
Rick Krajewski is a West Philadelphia neighbor, criminal justice organizer, educator, and artist running for State Representative in the 188th State House District.  Harrison Brink

Rick Krajewski’s Cause

PA State Rep Rick Krajewiski told us his story.

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When new PA State Rep. Rick Krajewski thinks back on where it all started, and how he became the new voice for West Philly in Harrisburg, he returns to a place two hours north in the Bronx, New York.

In 1991, Krajewski was born there to a Black mother and Polish father in what he called “a real melting pot” of a neighborhood.

“It was always a place of a lot of multiculturalism and racial diversity,” he said in a recent interview with AL DÍA.

A “rich” cultural and social experience

Since the turn of the 20th century, as New York City began its massive industrialization expansion, the Bronx has been home to working-class populations. 

At first, it was home to Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants before a mid-century exodus brought Black and Hispanic populations to the neighborhood in bigger numbers.

That was the Bronx of Krajewski’s childhood and his parents’ youth. It was also influenced by a big Puerto Rican population and a growing Dominican one, as well as heavy hip-hop influence fused into the mix from African-Americans. 

Krajewski remembers his parents, aunts, and uncles talking about block parties they went to hosted by legendary DJ Kool Herc, dubbed “The Founder of Hip-Hop” for his innovative use of breakbeats and rapping to create a new sound.

It made for what he called a “rich experience.”

“But tandem to that, there was also the real political things that were happening,” said Krajewski.

“But tandem to that, there was also the real political things that were happening,” said Krajewski.

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the Bronx, along with New York City and cities across the U.S., found itself a target of disinvestment thanks to neoliberal policies implemented during the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.

Further trauma came with Ronald Reagan’s expansion of the War on Drugs, which predominantly targeted inner-city communities of color with mass policing efforts that criminalized drug addiction and poverty as a whole.

“It was bad,” said Krajewski, who said that even though he was too young to remember, he lived it through his mother’s experience.

She was a single mother that worked multiple jobs to keep her, Krajewski, and his sister afloat. 

“From an early age, I could tell we were poor and lived in a poor neighborhood,” he said. “There were places that weren’t poor and had better things, but I didn’t know why.”

Krajewski would get a glimpse of that other world through his education.

Krajewski ran for election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with a campaign based on his experience with criminal justice reform and education. Harrison Brink
A whole new world

Until the age of 12, he attended a local neighborhood school in the Bronx. But that year, his mother found the program Prep for Prep, which was a scholarship program targeting low-income students of color. 

It meant Krajewski would have to take extra classes on the weekend, but the result was a full scholarship to Horace Mann School, one of the most elite private college preparatory schools in New York and the country.

He called the experience “completely world-changing.”

“I was suddenly classmates with the children of Governor Spitzer and the CEOs of Enron,” said Krajewski, “and I was still a poor kid from the Bronx.”

It was also mainly white, leaving him oftentimes isolated and suffering from major imposter syndrome.

He felt the same thing when he moved on from Horace Mann and New York City to go to the University of Pennsylvania for college.

Penn, like Horace Mann, is considered one of the most elite educational institutions in the country - an Ivy League school - and has graduated many of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the world, as well as their children.

“In the wake of it, I’ve often thought about why it had to be that way,” Krajewski told AL DÍA. “I constantly felt isolated and alienated when I got to these schools, and I was supposed to be one of the ‘chosen ones.’”

To get through Penn specifically, Krajewski found others “that didn’t fit in,” and created spaces for them to talk about their experiences.

As mixed-race, he questioned whether he fit in with certain student groups like the Black Student Union, so he created his own called Check One. It was an organization specifically for multiracial or mixed-race individuals on Penn’s campus, and he ran it for two years.

When Krajewski graduated and was looking for financial stability, he took a software developer job in Philly.

“Once I do that, then I would like to think about how do I get more involved?” he said.

A broken education system

The opportunity came in 2015 as a volunteer computer programming instructor at Huey Elementary School in West Philadelphia.

“My entry point was: ‘I got this good education and then I got this good job that got this good salary. I know it was because I was in this field called STEM. I also know firsthand that a lot of inner city schools don’t get offered STEM as a field,” said Krajewski.

Initially, it was just him and another volunteer teaching programming to fifth and sixth graders, but they built a bigger team over time. Everything came to a screeching halt when Huey was closed and converted into a charter school by the school district. 

The event was the first of three that would politicize Krajewski around an issue since college. This time, it was around the education system.

“This system is broken, it’s not supposed to be fixed. They don’t want it to be fixed,” he said.

Krajewski assumed office on December 1, 2020. His current term ends on November 30, 2022.  Harrison Brink
The 2016 election and beyond

The next politicizing event to shake Krajewski’s life happened a year later, as real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America.

“As a Black person, you’re often disappointed by society and you like to believe things aren’t true, but then they happen and you’re like: ‘I should have known better,” he said.

That was the 2016 election for Krajewski, who talked about how unsafe he began to feel in public because Trump won on an openly-racist, fascist, and white supremacist platform.

In his eyes, it was a massive step back for the US, but he was inspired by the campaign run that year by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

For Krajewski, the campaign broke with the longtime “status quo” of the Democratic Party and advocated for the first time on a national platform for healthcare for all and a $15 minimum wage. Both have become key national talking points in the years since Sanders’ first run for president.

Bitter about Trump’s victory but inspired by Sanders’ movement, Krajewski pushed himself to get more involved and joined up with Reclaim Philadelphia as a volunteer organizer focusing on criminal justice reform.

The choice of issue, he said, was heavily influenced by his upbringing.

“I saw how it impacted my community. I’ve seen how it impacted Philly,” said Krajewski.

“I saw how it impacted my community. I’ve seen how it impacted Philly,” said Krajewski.

He also linked it to everything else he’s encountered that mobilized him, like problems with the education system and poverty in inner city neighborhoods.

Reclaim Philadelphia would bring Krajewski in contact with his final politicizing event before taking politics into his own hands. It endorsed longtime public defender Larry Krasner for Philadelphia District Attorney in 2017.

Krasner, like Sanders the year before, ran on a progressive criminal justice agenda for the city that was unlike any seen before — it advocated for fighting mass incarceration by ending cash bail, investigating and overturning wrongful convictions, and holding police accountable for their actions, to name a few.

Unlike Sanders, Krasner won the Democratic primary in 2017 and then went on to win the general election.

“We organized and got him to win, and now his stuff isn’t so crazy,” said Krajewski. “It was a testament to community power and community organizing.”

Over the next three years, Krajewski would help on state and city campaigns for some of Philadelphia’s most prominent new figures on the City Council and in Harrisburg.

In 2020, he would join their ranks after he defeated longtime West Philadelphia Rep. James Roebuck Jr. in the Democratic primary for PA’s 188th District. He ran unopposed in the general election.

As a West Philadelphian, Krajewski has worked for criminal justice reform and access to public education. Since 2016, Rick has been an organizer with Reclaim Philadelphia, fighting to put working-class people at the forefront. Harrison Brink
Reclaiming Harrisburg

Krajewski ran a campaign rooted in his background of criminal justice and education reform, and he carries those experiences and ideas with him to Harrisburg.

On criminal justice reform, his ideas span from ending life without parole and reforming the state’s probation system to legalizing marijuana and promoting minorities to get involved in the weed business.

Since taking office, Krajewski has been appointed to the state’s Commission on Sentencing, where he can potentially enact or bring to the table some of his criminal justice reform ideas as he shapes how sentencing plays out statewide.

Amid COVID-19, Krajewski is also a proponent of releasing some prisoners that are most vulnerable to being infected by the virus.

Despite President Joe Biden’s plan to send $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, Krajewski says the one-time payments aren’t enough and supports monthly stipends to incentivize more people to stay home.

Along with that, he supports more rental and mortgage assistance for Pennsylvanians, and recently co-sponsored legislation that would make modifying mortgages easier and before any municipal lien assessments.

“Shelter is a necessity,” said Krajewski in a press release about the bill. “A person’s ability to keep a roof over their head, over their children’s heads, is tied directly to their ability to stay safe, to stay healthy.”

Krajewski is also one of 28 PA legislators to sign onto the People’s Budget Plan, which charts a path to COVID-19 economic recovery for the state through supporting working-class immigrants and Pennsylvanians of color.

As for education, his answer is to get more funding from the state for Philadelphia’s schools.

“You gotta give the schools more money,” said Krajewski.

“You gotta give the schools more money,” said Krajewski.

That funding could be used to pay teachers more, provide better programming, and repair and update dilapidated learning environments in the school district.

If anyone knows best about the impact of a good education, it’s him.

His education, along with the injustices he witnessed growing up in the Bronx, is what propelled him to be in PA’s legislature today. They’re issues he said that resonate with his “spirit.”

For anyone hoping to follow in his footsteps, Krajewski suggests finding those issues close to one’s heart and the will to fight for them.

“What kind of change do you want to make?” he said.

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