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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Thursday 25 October 2012

City of Brotherly Love

I have arrived in Philadelphia, where I’m taking some time out to help the ‘Foyer of Philadelphia’ charity to raise awareness and support for its work to help young people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

The last time I was in Philadelphia I was here to speak to a Professor from Penn State University who gave me some very sage advice on the need to capture a different story about young people making the transition into adulthood.  It’s taken over 5 years to pick up the thread of that conversation again, but some stories take a time to be told. Like my own.

At immigration, I get the distinct impression that the story of who I am is becoming less believable as my hair continues to grow against the grain. ‘You do what? Who are these people you talk to?’  At least they didn’t ask me to show my ears –the last request at passport control coming back to the UK from France.  If you have hair like mine, you get asked the dumbest things.  It’s slightly ironic that I clearly don’t look authentic enough to be believed, because I’m not speaking in or looking like the normative stereotypes. Turning on the TV for the American election, that’s all I hear: two men trading in stereotypes in order to be believed the most (though does anyone really..?). With round the clock coverage on American TV, it’s shocking that in all the saturation of information there is precious little detail about the real debate. American politics has turned into live car-crash TV, only it’s not much of a thrill to watch. It’s just scary.

Despite the modern swanky-look hotel, my mind thinks I’ve walked into the film Barton Fink. The corridors seem threatening in their swish silence; the city drones outside my window like the prelude to an explosion; staff smile as they fix my crazed alarm clock that won’t stop ringing to wake me up. They have ‘star service’ here which means I can apparently ask for anything.  How about an answer for the 6.7 million young people in America who are struggling to make their way in life? But that’s not on the list of ‘forgotten toiletries or other special needs’. Stars don’t think about that.

Outside, a quick walk around the block brings me back to earth. In just 10 minutes, I lose count of the number of people I see crying, slumped on the pavement, hiding in a doorway, babbling to no one, staring menacingly. Yet this, according to Conde Nest Traveller magazine, is the friendliest and most honest city in America .  The task facing humanity, to be human, is simply overwhelming.  At least we are good at building skyscrapers.

Today I’m talking about how Thomas Paine and Martin Seligman – both connected with this great city - can inspire us to take a different approach to open the talents of our young people. I’m not fit to be in the same paragraph as either of them, but I think they would both recognise the story: we need a revolution in how we value and invest in life, if we are to make the most of the life we have inside and in front of us.  Particularly the lives of those young people from a community that has so much to give, both in Philadelphia and around the world.

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