“When life gives you lemons, you can’t make lemonade unless you know where the sugar and water are,” proclaims Tamara Anderson. She’s a representative of Philadelphia’s Caucus of Working Educators with a resounding voice able to capture any listener. Not an eye strays from the stage and not a whisper escapes as every person in the room awaits Anderson’s next words.
On Saturday, September 22nd, teams of young people wearing matching T-shirts and sporting ready-for-change attitudes gathered at the Vote That Jawn event in Hamilton Commons at WHYY-TV Studios to devise strategies to bring fresh voters in Philadelphia to the polls this November for midterm elections. But, from the start of the event, it was clear that the Jawn’s impact on the youth and their communities would be much more far-reaching than just registering new voters.
And that’s Tamara Anderson’s point. Her voice booms over the loudspeakers, to deliver a powerful message about the life skills that come from bringing others to the polls. She speaks with her whole body, her dreadlocks bobbing back and forth as she captivates the audience with the passionate waving of her arms. Registering large numbers of youth to vote requires a certain kind of grit, she says, and a willingness to go out of one’s own comfort zone. Young people have to be resourceful and establish networks. You actually have to go out and do things. Along the way young people will develop contacts: by creating posters or videos for their peers, young voting advocates will meet artists; by going door-to-door, they’ll meet neighbors. So, yes, in our political lives together, Anderson concedes, we encounter lemons. But it is in making these connections that these teams of youth are finding where the sugar and water are. The lessons learned from this experience — taking actions that have real impact now — will last long after November 6th.
But, Tamara Anderson is teaching the youth to find the sugar and water in more ways than just this year’s voter registration. As an outspoken member of the Caucus, Anderson is an advocate for the strengthening of public education, believing that parents and educators play a key role in the matter. Still, she aims to embolden and inspire the youth themselves to take charge of issues and to lead change within their own communities. Anderson was a key organizer in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action, in which Philadelphia teachers empowered their students to understand the movement beyond the hashtag and to push the movement forward. Simply put, Tamara Anderson is teaching students that if they want change, they have the ability to go out and make it happen.
Samira Mehta is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying biochemistry and chemistry. She is a writer for Unearthed Penn, a free science magazine for West Philadelphia middle and high school students.