Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Jared Solomon ’01, currently running to represent the 202nd District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, is ready to earn his spot amongst the list of Swarthmore alumni in politics. Solomon, who hails from Northeastern Philadelphia, is depending on his connection to the community he hopes to represent to win him a seat in the House.
Solomon, a Political Science major, grew up with a single mother who worked as a teacher to support her family. Throughout elementary school, Solomon remembers his desire to go into public life.
“I was someone who wanted to run in 5th grade for office and I kept trying to convince the teacher that we needed a class president,” he said.
While these efforts may have been fruitless, Solomon realized his goals of leading his peers at Swarthmore when he participated in Student Council all four years and was eventually elected president.
“I think one of the things that [being on Student Council] taught me is that you really need to think about changing the place you are at. I wanted to make some lasting changes to Swarthmore to make the place better. And what folks taught me there is that you can do that,” he said.
Solomon has transferred these goals for change back to the communities in Northeast Philadelphia after noticing that 54% of its residents are under the poverty rate and an influx of minority families in recent years has shifted community dynamics. Though Solomon himself noticed these changes, he felt that area politicians were not paying attention to them.
“The leadership in the region was not doing anything. They were completely complacent,” he said.
So he took initiative by founding Take Back Your Neighborhood, a community group that focuses on building neighbor-to-neighbor relationships, addressing nuisances, and long-term projects to improve community experience.
“We were very results-oriented and what we did is instead of talking about issues, we just went out and addressed them,” he said.
Under this mission, Solomon helped the group bring the unused Big Belly trash cans from Center City to Northeast Philadelphia, started a youth basketball program, opened community gardens, and developed wellness and knitting programs.
While Solomon prioritizes revitalizing the neighborhoods he represents, one of his biggest hopes is that he “can completely change the way that we talk and deal with education.” Based on his experiences with children in Take Back Your Neighborhood’s youth basketball program, Solomon noticed that “schools are not providing the guidance [students] need.” Though a Swarthmore graduate, Solomon understands that college is not the ultimate goal for every individual.
“We’re telling these kids over and over again that the only place they could go is college and that there’s no other alternative. So I think we need a wholesale change in the way we talk about education, which will result in certain policy prescriptions which are wildly different from what we do now,” he said.
Solomon suggests attempting to identify students who may benefit from vocational training in as early as fifth or sixth grade to ensure that all of the individuals going through Philadelphia’s school system are able to get decently paying jobs.
In order to accomplish this goal, Solomon recognizes that the state needs to develop a realistic funding formula to ensure that “students have the resources they need and [politicians] don’t play political football with them every single year.” Though Pennsylvania has a republican-dominated legislature, Solomon believes he can develop a proposal that both parties can agree on.
While Solomon hopes to improve the educational experiences of his constituents, he acknowledges several professors who greatly influenced his time at Swarthmore and his post-graduate pursuits, including Claude C. Smith ’14 Professor of Political Science Rick Vallely and History Professor Robert Weinberg. Vallely fondly recalled Solomon’s participation in his classes.
“Jared and I got to be good friends outside the classroom — which is how I learned that he is extremely funny in a dry, semi-Don Rickles way. Following Jared’s career since he graduated, I’ve come to realize that he is exactly what a professional politician should be: public spirited, creative, devoted to representation of and conversation and engagement with constituents, and fundamentally committed to making government work,” he said.
Weinberg added, “As a student, Jared displayed a genuine concern for the common good of all students, a quality that he has developed in his work on political campaigns and community activism since graduation. His passion for helping others and engagement with pressing social and political issues convince me that he will be a strong advocate and defender of the interests of the constituents of the 202nd District.”
After leaving Swarthmore, Solomon went to law school and pursued his childhood dream of joining the Marine Corps. Solomon came close to becoming a Marine, but his time was cut short due to an injury. Initially, he took this injury as a failure, but soon came to see it as a lesson.
“I was way too structured and it taught me that you can pivot, you can move in a different direction and you can move in your own way and that for me took a while to figure out,” he said.
After recovering, Solomon decided to join the Army as an officer, before returning home to Northeast Philadelphia.
While Solomon focuses on his campaign, he still hopes to offer advice and inspiration to students interested in running for office: be a people person, understand history, and get involved with Student Council.
“I know [StuCo] is not the sexiest thing, but it really gave me a firm rooting in being able to change the place that I’m in,” he said. After graduation, Solomon suggests getting passionate about an issue and eventually running for a “seat that is made for you.”
Though he is confident that the 202nd District seat is made for him, Solomon’s endless days campaigning, fundraising, and reaching out to constituents are far from mundane.
“You know there’s no other profession I can think of where every single day you get to engage people and they get to tell you what their hopes and their fears are and you have the opportunity to make their hopes a little more attainable and temper their fears a bit, make them a little bit easier to swallow. There can’t be a better way to spend your life. I just can’t imagine it,” he said.
Featured image taken from jaredsolomon.nationbuilder.com.