North Philly Mighty Writers Help Set a Guinness World Record at Art Museum Steps
Oh the things you would do if you were President. Making new laws, getting rid of old laws, making life easier for everyone — the works. Now imagine if you were 9 years old, 12, 15, just a bright-eyed kid with no worries about a dysfunctional legislature. The sky’s the limit.
Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only one in Philadelphia who got to imagine that this week. Approximately 3,000 youngsters, ages 7-17, got together for a little essay writing in attempt to get in the Guinness Book of World Records. A group from North Philly was the first to arrive at the Art Museum steps (AKA the “Rocky Steps”) on July 26th.
“We’ve been here since nine o’clock,” said Shamira O’Neal, the Program Director at Mighty Writers North at 18th and Diamond Streets. “They’re a little agitated,” she added, pointing to the group sitting in the direct sunlight, all decked out in black t-shirts at 9:45 AM on the record-setting hot day.
But a local DJ, former mayor/governor Ed Rendell, and the Phillie Phanatic worked the crowd and they loosened up a bit — even dancing for a hot minute. Former Mighty Writers also spoke, as did school teachers and Councilman David Oh. The kids were ready to write.
One of the themes that seemed to run throughout the writing was free stuff. Perhaps the money woes of parents have led the kids to see debt as a problem.
“I want to make things free,” said a boy named Jabril, 9.
Another young man named Jarret, 11, wanted to “give homes to the homeless.” But rather than build new homes for them, “We can find them a house,” that’s already built.
For every child that may not have considered the difficulty in pulling off his or her desire, another may not have realized that they solved a multiple problems with one dream. Jarret not only solved homelessness, but started to fill up up abandoned homes.
Jakai, 12, may have “felt the Bern” this past year.
“I would make healthcare free,” he said. But rather than rest on a lofty and noble dream, Jakai laid out his domestic policy agenda and said that, “every other nation does it,” and the U.S. is “the only one not doing it,” referring to the single-payer model. Basically he’d cover “going to the doctor” 100 percent.
After writing, Jabril honed in his argument and clarified that “cars, food and houses would be free” and that would, “let people keep their money instead of running out of it.” When pressed by Spirit News on whether money would even be needed at all, Jabril was quick to point out that his plan did not cover jets. “You’d have to buy jets” with your own money. Fair enough, Maverick!
A few other kids had some ideas about making smoking illegal, building more fire departments, and bombing ISIS. Shockingly not one of the essays Spirit News found called for an executive order for free ice cream or pizza. And no, we know what you’re thinking, but not one of them said beer should be free. They’re kids for crying out loud. What’s wrong with you?
Whether the kids set a record is yet to be determined. Pretty much all of the journalists there were asking the Guinness guy, who’s name is Michael Empric (but we prefer Guinness guy — weren’t we talking about beer a few minutes ago?) about the regulations.
Empric is an “adjudicator” for Guinness. He was dressed up in a suit and insisted all interviews be done in the shade. He said that as long as there were 250 kids writing they’d set the record because it’s a newly established record. He added, “I’m not allowed to speculate” on whether there were 250 kids there, but the official count should be done, “in 15 minutes.” Spirit News’s official head count came to Elevendy billion, but but we later learned that we’re not supposed to multiply by Pi, so it was probably around 3,000 kids.
Afterward there was some sort of problem with the final count. One volunteer said that if 10 percent of the kids weren’t participating then they didn’t set an official record. Empric also mentioned that the special red books that were handed out had to have contiguous writing or it may not count. Maybe Empric saw a bunch a Philly dudes melting in the heat and was like, ‘I gotta get this back to the office before I get the Santa Claus treatment.’ But us journos were like, ‘Dude, we’ve got to cover the DNC and some protests and all. What gives?’
One week later, Mighty Writers issued the following press release:
What’s not so Mighty is the outfit we commissioned to certify our most-kids-writing endeavor is refusing to call it a world record.
I know. Seriously. If you were there, you’ve got to be as flabbergasted as we are.
Best we can figure they don’t think we strictly adhered to the rules they created for the event.
And they’re not necessarily wrong.
They wanted the kids–some 3,000 kids, mind you–to stay on the steps in a restricted area throughout the writing program. But when the temps soared to blast furnace conditions, that struck us as cruel and unusual. If some kids decided to get up for water, or to find a semblance of shade to sit and write, we weren’t about to hustle after them.
Wouldn’t be wise.
Definitely wouldn’t be Mighty.
There were other disputes, and from where we sit, a distinctly unpleasant attitude from the judging organization. But tempting as it is to cite chapter and verse why we think it might be wise for said organization to stick to what they know best and steer clear of kids and literacy programs, we’re instead going to breathe deep.
And look to a wiser mind for inspiration.
Our choice is one Michelle Obama, whose work with children the world over has been a guiding light at Mighty Writers since we opened our doors in 2009.
At the Wells Fargo Center the night before our art museum event, she uttered seven words we’re taking to heart at this very moment
“When they go low, we go high.”
While these kids may have not set an official record, this feat of writing and imagination is a record in Spirit News’ book, that’s for sure.