Coffee Chat with Councilmember Isaiah Thomas

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On May 17, Campus Philly was able to participate in an exclusive Coffee Chat with Councilmember Isaiah Thomas!⁠ Interns from Councilmember Thomas’ office, Savannah Richerson and Aditi Bawa, led an engaging roundtable discussion with the Councilmember and dove into all things city-council-related, including how to make an impact in your community, how to get involved as a political science major, and the first steps on how you can create change.

Missed it? No worries! Check out the blog below for a recap of the awesome conversation, or watch the full conversation, archived in Campus Philly’s Recent Interviews.

Tell us about yourself, Councilmember Thomas. What is your background outside of your political role? 

Councilmember Thomas: “I was born and raised here in Philadelphia and grew up in the northwest section of the city. I am also a product of the Philly school district. I am the son of a teacher, and my mother was a childcare provider. After graduating from Frankford High School, I went to Penn State for undergrad and Lincoln University for graduate school. While finishing up my first master’s degree in education, I realized that I wanted to become politically involved and engaged in the city.”

Are there any specific events in your life that led you to where you are now? What led you to run for city council? 

Councilmember Thomas: “The first event was working for former State Representative Tony Payton Jr. He recruited me to work part-time in his office for a short period and I got to do some really cool work. I remember putting together back to school drives and community cleanups for the Frankford area that didn’t exist before I got there. Those resources became one of the staples of the office. It was also amazing to watch someone that looked like me and came from the same place as me bring resources to the neighborhood. Tony was the epitome of a serving leader, it made working in politics realistic.

Another thing that inspired me was the passion that I have for education. I had to recognize that systematic change is very difficult to come upon when you are fighting on an individual level. In order to see systemic change, especially in something like education, you have to be a part of the system in some way, for me that was running for city council.”

Since you have a non-traditional political background, what advice do you have for those who didn’t study political science? 

Councilmember Thomas: “Everyone’s path is different because everyone’s network is different. I learned alot about politics from putting myself out there and choosing to challenge myself. My first campaign in 2011 helped me realize that I didn’t know a lot of things and it was a great opportunity for me to learn. After that, I spent a lot of hours volunteering on other people’s campaigns so that I could learn how to win a local race. I also went through a fellowships program, The New Leaders Council, which was extremely beneficial because I saw it as a crash course.”

What drew your interest to intern for city council? 

Aditi Bawa, Drexel University

Aditi Bawa: “Last summer during the George Floyd killing, I was interning for a US Congressman from Virginia. While working for Congress is fun and glamorous, the more I researched, I realized that a lot of the change happens on a lower level than I originally thought. So, I decided to throw myself into activism and local campaigning. I was also planning to move back to Philly after COVID and I wanted to work in a place where I knew impact could happen. I definitely found what I was looking for in Councilman Isaiah’s Thomas office.”

Savannah Richerson, Temple University

Savannah Richerson: “I am a student at Temple, and I saw the internship job posting on the Temple Political Science department Instagram. I’m from Tennessee, and I had experience in working on campaigns from home, but I ultimately felt so disconnected from Philadelphia politics. I didn’t have a lot of great connections that some of my fellow peers had and I wanted to change that. I was looking for a way to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself and I needed to actively work my way into this world because it felt like a huge barrier to entry. This opportunity fed my desire to know more about politics in Philadelphia ”

If you have one thing to share with prospective students that are looking to get into politics in the Philadelphia area, what would it be ?

Savannah Richerson: “Always be ready and willing to step up when there is an opportunity to get something done. A huge part of politics is that new things are happening all the time, it takes a lot of self advocacy to step up and take on those new things.”

Aditi Bawa: “Relationships matter, being nice and kind to others goes a long way in this kind of work. Also, being a servant leader and understanding that you are here to serve can make a difference. Lastly, it’s really important to nourish the fire and passion that you have for politics and never let it go.”

Councilmember Thomas: “Going through internships is how I got into where I am now. That’s why in my office, we allow interns to maximize their potential. As an intern, if you show you have the capability and capacity for certain projects, you can walk away with a phenomenal experience and connections that you can use for the rest of your life. We also want show you how to stay connected to one another so that you can leverage those doors that we all have in common in the political world.”

Looking for even more incredible advice for those looking to embark on a career in politics? View the full interview with Councilmember Thomas here!

Interested in interning at Councilmember Thomas’ office? Their team is looking for fall 2021 interns! Email your resume to Dominique Miller at dom.miller@phila.gov.

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