|Rep. Dwight Evans
203rd Legislative District
Where some perceive blight and bleak prospects, state Representative Dwight Evans sees hope and opportunity.
Since Evans took office in 1980 at age 26, the 203rd Legislative District in Northwest Philadelphia has undergone a transformation.
Today, once-blighted neighborhoods along Ogontz Avenue, in West Oak Lane and surrounding areas are thriving, prospering and continuing to grow as a magnet for middle-class jobs, safe schools and economic development.
As a constituent noted, "...I have seen your work first hand... You have made Ogontz Avenue an amazing place to stay..."
The metamorphosis is rooted in Evans' commitment to communities and their citizens. His fervor is based on his conviction that representing Philadelphians is a never-to-be-forgotten honor and privilege.
The fire still burns; the vision expands
Evans is passionate about creating a 21st century economy in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. To spur economic development, Evans works to build stronger communities by preparing students for a brighter future, making communities safer and expanding healthy choices.
He is a national leader in efforts to combat hunger and increase access to quality foods. Evans spearheaded Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which links public and private money to build grocery stores in underserved, rural, urban and suburban areas.
The program has encouraged companies to build a growing number of grocery stores – 85 at last count -- which are benefiting thousands of families whose previous dietary options were unhealthy and overpriced. The initiative also has created more than 5,000 jobs statewide. The $30 million in seed money has taken root and has been leveraged into projects totaling more than $190 million.
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative is recognized as one of the top public policy initiatives in the country, and Evans' continuing efforts have earned him accolades from the White House and from countless community groups across the nation.
Evans continues to raise national awareness of the program by speaking at conferences around the country, including a Harvard University webinar. Other states are working hard to emulate Pennsylvania's success.
Education: the currency of success
Evans believes that good public education is the foundation of a strong economy, thriving communities and successful citizens.
He has spoken about education policy to the Brookings Institution and the National Press Club, and participated in a White House roundtable discussion at the request of former President George W. Bush during discussions about No Child Left Behind.
Evans believes that investing in education is investing in people and our futures. He champions responsible education funding -- from the earliest learners in pre-school to those pursuing advanced degrees or job training.
Evans is a battle-tested veteran fighting for responsible education funding. He's been at the vanguard of fierce Harrisburg budget battles as the Democratic Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a position entrusted to him from 1990 to 2010.
In April 2013, Evans was appointed to the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee by Speaker of the House Samuel H. Smith.
At the same time, Evans expects schools to meet stringent standards. He supports choice for parents at the elementary and secondary levels and he penned the state's Charter School law in 1997.
Evans is girded for more battles so the quality of a child's education does not hinge so much on a student's zip code or the latest economic downtown.
Standing tall on safety, gun violence
As one of the most respected elected officials in the state, Evans believes people and communities must be safe to thrive. Evans is a staunch advocate in the legislature for effective tools to reduce handgun violence. As such, he has spoken on several national panels about the impact of gun-related crime on communities.
In 2005, he championed the Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia, calling on congressional leaders to help keep handguns out of the hands of children.
However, Evans believes reducing gun violence starts with each of us:
"We know that violence is a learned behavior, that our youth are learning from us that violence is an acceptable way to solve a problem," Evans said. "As adults and as leaders in our communities, we have to break that cycle. The first place we have to start is by keeping guns out of children's hands. They're getting them from us, from adults, and it's up to us to stop it."
Evans has worked tirelessly to build a consensus to address the problems of illegal handguns, crime and violence. He brokered a deal that called for the state House to devote a day to public debate on the issues. He also won overwhelming House support for a measure creating a five-year mandatory sentence for possession of a firearm if the person has been convicted of two prior crimes involving serious violence or drug-trafficking.
Big dreams, goals
Evans is looking forward to crafting Social Impact bond legislation that would provide a new financing model to accelerate social innovation and improve government performance.
Spotlighted by the Center for American Progress, social impact bonds combine performance-based payments and market discipline. Evans notes that this innovative approach has the potential to improve results, overcome barriers to social innovation, and encourage investment in cost-saving preventive services.
Evans said Pennsylvania made headway with the enactment of Act 152 of 2012, which created "benefit corporations" that must create material, positive impacts on society and the environment while retaining their traditional purposes of making a profits for shareholders.
Calling it the next step, Evans said social impact bonds could embrace free-market ideals to reform and improve government approaches to financing social services.
It is a work in progress, but a work Evans is committed to.
Taking it to the streets
The national accolades and high praise Evans has reaped belies his strong ties to the community.
Evans is no inhabitant of ivory towers, and is much more comfortable at the Taking It to the Streets festivals, job summits and "Friday Nights Out" neighborhood events that have become hallmarks of Evans' public service.
A Philadelphia native and a 1971 graduate of Germantown High School, Evans was graduated from the Community College of Philadelphia and LaSalle University. He received an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University.
Evans is on the boards of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Concerned Black Men. Evans also serves as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Leadership for Healthy Communities and co-chairs the National Conference of State Legislatures' Hunger Partnership.
"My ties to Philadelphia will never slacken and my love for Northeast Philadelphia grows every day," Evans said. "Some might say my record has proven my commitment, but I prefer to think the best has yet to come."