Helen Gym

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Helen Gym


Helen Gym, chair of the Committee on Children and Youth, on the Philadelphia City Council is a community and education leader whose work across different organizations supports the right to a quality public education for all children. As a Councilwoman, her primary concern is addressing widespread poverty in Philadelphia, particularly through an emphasis on building a quality public education system that anchors schools within communities. She will continue to push for fairer and more responsible taxation, sustainable investments in neighborhoods, language access and civil rights, and a focus on the long-term health and safety of Philadelphia residents.[1]

She was awarded EMILY’s List 2017 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award.

She is married to Bret Flaherty.

Charter school comrades

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Helen Gym, Ellen Somekawa, Ngo Thanh Nhan 2012.

"Remaking Urban America"

Asian Americans United June 7, 2009:

MANY THANKS to everyone -- speakers, community organizations, Drexel's School of Education -- who made this community dialogue such a success!!

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Photo of AAU members at "Remaking Urban America" sponsored by Drexel's Multicultural Collaborative on June 5.

Bret Flaherty, Scott Kurashige, Neeta Patel, Ellen Somekawa, Helen Gym.

Youth Power Rally

Asian Americans United December 4, 2010:

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Youth Power Rally @ South Philly High - Dec 3, 2010 — with Ellen Somekawa, Helen Gym and Judy At Aau.

2011 board

Asian Americans United June 11, 2011:

Welcome to AAU's Board!

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Ally Vuong, Maxine Chang, Mia-Lia Kiernan, Judy At Aau, Helen Gym, Alice Vuong, Xu Lin, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, Maxine Chang, Joan May T. Cordova, Betty Lui and Ellen Somekawa.

Corbett protest

Asian Americans United May 12, 2012:

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On Tuesday May 15th, Governor Corbett is coming to Prince Theater in Philadelphia to address the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. During his time as Governor, Corbett has made massive cuts to education, medical assistance, and social services while he is spending $685 million on new prison construction. His recent budget alone proposes $264 million in cuts to higher education, $319 millio... See More — with Lai Har Cheung, Xu Lin, Alice Vuong, Judy At Aau, Paul Socolar, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, Erika Almiron Niz, Mica Root, Wei Chen, Nancy Dung Nguyen, Desi Burnette, Maxine Chang, Helen Gym, Betty Lui, Erika Funk, Ellen Somekawa, Joan May T. Cordova and Alix Mariko Webb.

Defending Asian students

Asian Americans United December 2, 2013:

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On December 3rd, 2009, 26 Asian immigrant students were attacked both inside and directly outside of South Philadelphia High School. The students boycotted school for eight days, demanding accountability from school leadership. AAU worked with a strong and passionate team of allies to support the students. Most importantly, the students were unified, they stood strong and they didn’t back down…and... See More — with Alison Sprague, Duong Nghe Ly, Nancy Dung Nguyen, Wei Chen, Cecilia Chen, Neeta Patel, Xu Lin, Betty Lui, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, Judy At Aau, Joan May T. Cordova, Ellen Somekawa, Helen Gym, Alice Vuong and Maxine J. Chang.

Asian Americans United - 28th Anniversary

Asian Americans United November 19, 2013:

Cheers and thanks to all who volunteered (Go AAU, go!), sponsored, hosted, donated, presented, emceed, deejayed, cooked, mixed sangria, performed and celebrated at AAU's memorable 28th anniversary benefit concert/dance featuring Nobuko Miyamoto with Theo Gonzalves! Intergenerational groups presented AAU's Standing Up for Justice Awards to Grayce Uyehara, John Elliott Churchville, and 1Love Movement. Emcee Kao Khue wove the program together like poetry.

Nobuko wrote and sang a new song for the first time: ”You are the ones we've been waiting for...” And all joined in singing: ”We are the ones we've been waiting for.”

...with so much gratitude for all who build communities and work for justice.

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<3 — with Eric Joselyn, Duong Nghe Ly, Matt Tae, Regina Liu Kerr, Lai Har Cheung, Srey Boss, Chi-Ser Tran, Grace Rustia, Emily P. Lawsin, Scott Kurashige, Mary Yee, Laurent Widjaya, Paul Uyehara, Alix Mariko Webb, Rorng Sorn, Senn Font, Linh Nguyen, Bryan Mercer, K. Naroen Chhin, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, Neeta Patel, Tai Joselyn, Doua Xiong, Renyu Wu, John Elliott Churchville, Kavita Levy, Judy At Aau, Theo Gonzalves, Ana Cruz, Janeya Hisle, Ellen Somekawa, Wei Chen, Helen Gym, Sookyung Oh, Dawn Werme Pratson, Xu Lin, Betty Lui, Peter Van Do, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kao Nhia Kue, Jean Hunt, Teresa Engst, Alice Vuong and Maxine Chang.

Council

In Nov. 2015, Helen Gym ran for a citywide seat on the Philadelphia City Council, winning with the highest vote count (145,000+) of any Council candidate.

Education

University of Pennsylvania M.S. 1995 – 1996.[2]

Rethinking Schools

Board of Directors/Editorial Board Rethinking Schools October 2010 – Present .[3]

2014 editors

Rethinking Schools February 8, 2014:

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Half our editors are meeting in Milwaukee this weekend, the other half in Portland. — with Kaythee Xyooj, Michael Trokan, David Levine, Helen Gym, Kristin Collett, Stan Karp and Tegan M. Dowling.

Curator

"We Cannot Keep Silent" May 2012 – May 2013 Curator for a gallery exhibit at the Philadelphia Folklore Project on a civil rights campaign involving Asian immigrant youth and their work addressing racial bias and harassment and building safe school environments at a local Philadelphia high school.[4]

"The Guardians"

City Paper October 21, 2010 Big Vision Award "The Guardians" : AAU with SASA! — with Joan May T. Cordova, Judy At Aau, Nancy Dung Nguyen, Wei Chen, Ellen Somekawa, Helen Gym, Alison Sprague and Xu Lin

Activism

Helen Gym co-founded Parents United for Public Education, a citywide parent group that builds parent voice and works for quality, equity and transparency in school budgets, while also successfully advocating for millions of dollars in new revenue for Philadelphia public schools. The group is working to establish a baseline level of resources, staffing and programs for every child at every school. Helen co-founded the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent education newspaper, which has done extensive investigations into school district budgeting, evaluated major policy initiatives, and reported on areas (i.e. charter school admission policies) in need of accountability.

She was most recently interim Executive Director of Asian Americans United, where she has been a longtime board member. For over 20 years she has been a leader in some of the community’s most prominent campaigns, including the opposition to a proposed stadium and casino, the founding of a public charter school serving immigrant children and families, and campaigns around human rights issues in immigration and deportation practices. Helen was one of the anchors of a successful federal civil rights case at a local high school involving harassment of immigrant youth.[5]

Helen Gym 2000. “Fighting for Our Neighborhoods.” Asian Americans United Press Statement. Nov. 13.[6]

Background

Gym was raised in Columbus, Ohio, by a pair of immigrant Korean parents. According to family legend, her father escaped from enforced enlistment in the North Korean army during the Korean War. He came upon an American patrol and shouted: “I am a Christian!” They shot him anyway—multiple times, in the back and torso. Taken prisoner, he recovered, lived hand-to-mouth on the streets of Seoul, then took a national education exam and got such a boffo score that he earned a scholarship to George Fox University in Oregon. Before getting on the plane, convinced he had parasites or some other malady, he swallowed a quarter cup of gasoline, hoping it would cure him and enable him to pass the mandatory immigrant health exam. Apparently it worked. Once he arrived, he changed his middle name to Golden. Won Golden Gym.

Golden, working as a computer engineer at Nationwide Insurance, while Gym’s mother worked in food service at Ohio State University.

Helen Gym landed at Penn, where she was an erratic student, veering from the dean’s list one semester to the verge of academic expulsion another.

Gym reluctantly went back to Ohio after graduation, and worked an unsatisfying job as a reporter at the Mansfield News Journal. When her college boyfriend (and now husband) Bret Flaherty finished up law school at Tulane, he moved back to Philly. Gym joined him.

In the next few years, Gym’s future activism began to take root. She latched on with Asian Americans United, a small racial-justice and advocacy group, and played a key role in the creation and early publishing days of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a nonprofit news outlet covering the city’s public schools. Around the same time, Gym was teaching at Lowell Elementary in the city’s Olney section, helping to build an intensive small-class program for mostly immigrant students.

But the model was savaged by the Daily News in a series of stories and columns charging that school administrators were shortchanging black students by packing them into large classes to free up resources for immigrant Asian kids. There were protests and testimony at Council hearings. Gym felt utterly helpless: “I realized that I didn’t have the language to talk about race and education.” She realized as well that schools can’t exist for long in a vacuum. “I embraced the idea that teaching is inextricably linked to a community’s values.”

Gym joined the board of AAU and began to fuse activism and racial identity in some very high-profile ways. It was Gym and AAU who led the charge in 2000 against the prospect of a downtown Phillies ballpark north of Chinatown, worried it would lead to rapid gentrification. She played a central role in 2008 when the owners of the proposed Foxwoods Casino wanted to build in the Gallery mall, adjacent to Chinatown.

By then, Gym was more or less a full-time activist. She was no longer teaching or working a full-time paying job (Flaherty is a partner at the law firm Berger & Montague), and she had the freedom and inclination to throw herself into all manner of causes.[7]

“The State of Black-Asian relations"

"The State of Black-Asian relations:Interrogating Black-Asian Coalition 50 Years After Bandung”

Tuesday, August 2 2005, AFSC Friends Center, 1515 Cherry Street/Philadelphia. Sponsored by the Third World Coalition of the American Friends Service Committee.

In April of 1955, 29 African and Asian nations came together in Bandung, Indonesia for the Asian-African Conference to promote economic and cultural cooperation and oppose colonialism. More popularly referred to as “Bandung,” this gathering was historic because it brought together newly independent colored nations and posed a challenge to western and white dominance. It is believed that the notion of the “third world” emerged from Bandung to demonstrate a rejection of both the west and ideologies associated with it. Bandung has been celebrated and referenced by many activists and intellectuals including W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Yuri Kochiyama, Vijay Prashad, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Makani Themba-Nixon.
Thus, fifty years later, we seek to explore the possibilities and reality of Black-Asian relations in the US. Join us in Philly as Black and Asian American activists come together to discuss tensions between Blacks and Asians, what we see as the roots of conflicts, how this informs our activist projects, and whether coalition is viable between our communities. Panelists will draw from their activist experiences, which includes international solidarity work, educational justice, immigrant rights organizing, non-profit funding analysis, anti-gentrification projects, queer justice, and anti-police violence work.

Panelists will include: Rodney Camarce, Nijmie Dzurinko, Kenyon Farrow, Helen Gym, Tiffany King, Tamara K. Nopper, Ewuare Osayande.

Moderated by Darryl Jordan, Director of the Third World Coalition of AFSC.[8]

"Challenging Anti-Asian Harassment"

"We Have the Power to Make Change: The Role of Community Lawyering in Challenging Anti-Asian Harassment at South Philadelphia High School" by Cecilia Chen and Andrew Leong. The authors thanked Ellen Somekawa, Helen Gym, and Xu Lin from Asian Americans United; Nancy Nguyen and Michelle Nguyen from Boat People SOS; Tram Nguyen and Alison Sprague from Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia; Mia-Lia Kiernan, Debbie Wei and the Asian Student Association of Philadelphia for their courageous efforts to address bias-based harassment at SPHS. [9]

FACTS

Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School just north of Chinatown is a charter school. Gym is as responsible for its existence as anyone. She was one of a handful of people who founded the school. She sent two of her three children there. And her husband, Bret Flaherty, is vice chair of the FACTS board.[10]

Notebook founders

Helen Gym June 10, 2014.

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Wow. What a crew. Seven of the original founding members of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. Thanks for 20 years of passion, hard work, and a fierce commitment to education justice amid the insanity! (Photo: the incomparable Harvey Finkle) — with Len Rieser, Debbie Wei, Rochelle Nichols Solomon, Cindy Farlino, Wilfredo Rojas and Eric Joselyn at University of the Arts.

Notebook Bloggers

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook honored its eight community bloggers, who contribute regularly to our site: Helen Gym, Len Rieser, Ron Whitehorne, Samuel Reed, Frank Murphy, Timothy Boyle, Peak Johnson, and Nijmie Dzurinko.[11]

AAU event

Friday, April 29. 2013 Asian Americans United Exhibit Closing Night & Special Forum on the Shifting Politics of Race at Cedar Works.

Exhibit Closing Night: (5:30 to 6:45 pm) Your last chance to view AAU’s exhibit, We Cannot Keep Silent, at the Philadelphia Folklore Project (735 S. 50th Street). Curated by Helen Gym, Ellen Somekawa and Joan May Cordova. Featuring photos by Harvey Finkle and Kathy Shimizu, first person voices of boycott participants, and oral histories.

Special Forum (7pm): Speaker presentations followed by dialogue time. Light Refreshments will be served.

Speakers:

  • Scott Kurashige, Ph.D: Asian American Movements, Anti-Asian Violence & the Intersection with African American History
  • John Elliott Churchville, Ph.D., J.D.: African American Movements in Philadelphia & the Intersection with Asian American History.[12]

Asian Americans United - 30th Anniversary

Helen Gym December 15, 2015.

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30th anniversary of Asian Americans United - what a crew! — with Linda Deafenbaugh, Chi Joselyn, Betty Lui, Jay Zou, Masaru Edmund Nakawatase, Eric Joselyn, Maxine J. Chang, Teresa Engst, Wei Chen, Lai Har Cheung, Alix Webb, Sachie Hopkins Hayakawa, Judy At Aau, Mary Yee, Xu Lin, Neeta Patel, Kay Yoon, Paul Uyehara, Ken Hung, Debora Kodish and Alice Vuong.

Achievements

Helen is the recipient of the Philadelphia Inquirer Citizen of the Year award and the National Award of Distinction by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She was also chosen as one of 10 people nationally as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change by the White House. Helen is the mother of three children, one public school graduate and two current public school students. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.[13]

MMP comrades

Media Mobilizing Project April 7, 2017:

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With Helen Gym, Ellen Somekawa and Alix Mariko Webb.

Whitehorne connection

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Ron Whitehorne May 25, 2016 with Helen Gym.

Progressive Philly Rising

When Hannah Jones - Maypop Collective was first approached about joining a newly-emerging progressive coalition in Philadelphia that was backing John Hanger for governor, she was conflicted. So when Progressive Philly Rising approached the Maypop Collective for support, "I moved past my initial hesitation and listened". They presented a long-term vision for progressive and working class power in Philadelphia that inspired and excited us in Maypop. We talked and thought and paced and questioned. We worked through the ways in which the fight for ecological justice in Philadelphia is inextricably linked with the fight for economic and racial justice. After much deliberation, we decided to join the coalition.

On February 1st, 2014, over 250 people gathered at Arch Street United Methodist Church for PPR’s first public event to hear about its vision. The event featured a host of community organizers from Philadelphia, including Nancy Dung Nguyen with Boat People SOS, Kia Philpot Hinton Hinton Hinton with Action United, Mohammad Shukur with the Unified Taxi Worker Alliance, Desi Burnette, an organizer for migrant justice, and others.

Each person spoke to the interconnected nature of the struggles represented in the room. As Helen Gym with Asian Americans United and Parents United said, “We have to recognize that the very same interests that regard education as a business, schools as centers of potential profit, parents as consumers, and teachers unions as obstacles to corporate control, will approach every arena of life with the same exploitative zeal”.[14]

Ron Whitehorne February 3, 2014;

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Wife Patty took this picture of me yesterday in which I appear to be a Methodist preacher. Not the case. Endorsing John Hanger at the Progressive Philly Rising event at Arch St. Methodist. Proud to share the podium with Nancy Dung Nguyen, Kia Philpot Hinton Hinton, Desi Burnette, Helen Gym, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Ociele Hawkins, Dina Yarmus, Ellen Somekawa and, of course, John Hanger. A spirited, multi-racial crowd of a couple of hundred people strongly identified with Hanger's call for a fight to defend public education, attack income inequality and end mass incarceration. Join Progressive Philly Rising and help build a new rainbow coalition in our town.

Vote Justice slate

215 People’s Alliance May 19, 2015 ·

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TODAY IS THE DAY FOLKS. Nurse Patty Eakin on why she's going to #VoteJustice:

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"I am excited by this election because I think we have a strong slate of candidates who are willing to fight to make this a city for everyone, not just for the city elites and the downtown corporations like Comcast.

As a nurse I know that one of the biggest predictors of poor health is poverty, and Philadelphia is the poorest of America's big cities. Jim Kenney and our endorsed city council candidates have pledged to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour because no one can provide the basic necessities of life for themselves and their children on $8 an hour."

The #VoteJustice Slate is Jim Kenney for Mayor, and Sherrie Cohen, Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas, Wilson Good, Jr. and William Greenlee for City Council. Learn more about the #VoteJustice slate at http://215pa.com/.

Progressive Philly Rising endorsement

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Progressive Philly Rising is proud to announce our endorsements for City Council At-Large. Our endorsed candidates make up the #VotePeoplesAgenda slate.

Serving Councilman, W. Wilson Goode, Jr. is joined by challengers, Isaiah Thomas, Sherrie Cohen, Jenne Ayers, and Helen Gym.

Union endorsement

Amid public accusations of racial and personal bias, AFSCME District Council 47, the union that represents primarily white-collar city employees and supervisors, declined on Thursday night to endorse its current vice president, Ethelind Baylor, who has touted her union bona fides in her campaign for an at-large City Council seat.

“The meeting was a circus,” said Bob Coyle, president of the Local 2187, the largest voting delegate bloc among the eight labor groups represented under District Council 47. “There was a lot of animated discussion surrounding Ethelind, but in the end the union made the right decision to not endorse her.”

In the end, District Council 47 choose to endorse Isaiah Thomas, Sherrie Cohen, Helen Gym, Derek Green, and Justin DiBerardinis for City Council’s at-large seats.[15]

2019 215 People’s Alliance slate

The membership of 215 People’s Alliance is supporting a slate of movement candidates for this May's primary election. We're backing candidates who are committed to working-class people and building a more just Philadelphia. Here's your chance to get involved and make sure our representatives are accountable to our communities.

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These candidates are: Helen Gym, Erika Almiron, Isaiah Thomas, Justin Diberardinis and Ethelind Baylor.

Movements are won through people power. Join us, be a part of a sea change in Philadelphia's chambers of power, and volunteer as a part of 215 People’s Alliance PAC field program!

Reclaim Philadelphia 2019 Council endorsements

Reclaim Philadelphia April 2 2019:

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With Erika for Philly, Helen Gym, Citizens For Isaiah Thomas, Justin for Philly and Ethelind Baylor.

Promoting Njimie Dzurinko

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Helen Gym is close to Nijmie Dzurinko.

Staff 2016

Endorsements

In 2015, Helen Gym was endorsed by the following organizations:

Founders

Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School founders were;[16]

POWER to the People's Convention

Eric Mar July 10, 2016.

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POWER to the People's Convention in Pittsburgh! An INSPIRED thank you to the Center for Popular Democracy/Local Progress, Make the Road, WORKING FAMILIES PARTY!, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), SEIU 32BJ, and so many others! — with Brad Lander, Helen Gym, Nikki Fortunato Bas, John Avalos, Tarsi Dunlop, Sarah Johnson and Ady Barkan at Center for Popular Democracy.

Hiring Paul Socolar

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In May 2016, Councilwoman Helen Gym hired Paul Socolar.

We are proud to bring to our team Paul Socolar, former editor of the Notebook, an "icon of independent journalism" and an encyclopedia of knowledge and know-how when it comes to understanding school budgets. Paul joins us ths spring as an education policy analyst working on the School District budget.

Opposing travel ban

Amid a crowd of more than 100 protesters in Terminal A at PHL, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf made an announcement around January 28, 2017 : “I am here to say you are welcome here.” Less than an hour later, word filtered through that a federal judge’s ruling temporarily stayed part of an order from President Donald Trump banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

He wasn’t the only prominent politician to make an appearance. Senator Bob Casey left an engagement wearing a tux and tails to show solidarity for Syrian families at PHL who had been denied entry and forced to return to the Middle East and three people from Qatar who were being detained. Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressmen Robert Brady and Dwight Evans, City Councilwoman Helen Gym and state Rep. Brian Sims were also there.[17]

No to "white supremacy"

Pele IL March 2, 2017:

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Felt really good today to stand with Jews connecting the rise in antisemitism to all bigotry stemming from white supremacy.

Also always so happy to see Councilwoman Helen Gym standing with the collective liberation crew! Thank you for continuing to show up for all people in this moment! — with Aaron Browne, Joshua Brandon Hoffman, Shoshana Bricklin, Helen Gym, Keren Weitzberg, Matt Berkman and Sarah Barasch-Hagans.

ACA rally

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March 1 2017 hundreds of concerned citizens, including many healthcare professionals, came out to a rally in downtown Philadelphia on Saturday to defend the gains we’ve made in providing healthcare benefits to millions of previously uninsured Americans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Local 5106 was represented by Sue Clements, RN and Bindu Josephs, Ultrasound Tech.

The organizers from the Women’s March Movement started the rally with the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” The speakers included City Council Member Helen Gym, State Representative Dwight Evans, and U.S. Senator Bob Casey. The U.S. Senator got big cheers by declaring that Republicans do not have a plan but rather a scheme to take health care away from millions. “We’ve got a plan. Let’s fight them,” he urged the crowd.[18].

March 1, 2017 - Among protestors photographed together were, L-R, nonprofit planner Rhonda Kutzik, Leslie Meyerson, State rep. Dwight Evans and labor political strategist John Meyerson.[19]

NAKASEC board members

NAKASEC board members as of January 2018 included Helen Gym.[20]

HANA Center

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Helen Gym, protesting for DACA in front of the White House with HANA Center activists, September 3, 2017.

Local Progress Board Members

Local Progress Board members, As of August 10, 2018:[21]

Reclaim Philadelphia connection

Reclaim Philadelphia November 6 2018:

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Happy to have Councilmember Helen Gym out here canvassing with #reclaimphiladelphia! We’re out here fighting together for a future that works for us all!

Reclaim Philadelphia endorsement

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References