Lamar Bustion grew up in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia. His family has had the same house in that neighborhood for four generations, nearly a century. He went to elementary school at Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius, attended Roman Catholic High School, and earned his degree from Saint Joseph's University.
And yet, when he learned about a job opportunity at ACHIEVEability, a nonprofit based near his family's home in West Philadelphia that seeks to dismantle the cycle of poverty, Bustion thought to himself, "Never heard of it."
"I did a lot of research and I was like this little organization is making a lot of positive moves in West Philadelphia. And I never heard of them, which is weird," said Bustion, who worked for ACHIEVEability for two years before joining the Eagles' marketing team in 2023.
During his job interview, Bustion mentioned that to ACHIEVEability's Deputy Director Carly Maurer, who wasn't surprised.
"Yeah, that's a lot of people's first impressions," Maurer responded.
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced the launch of the next phase of the A Fan of Change campaign to spotlight those unheralded organizations, like ACHIEVEability, that are making small wins each and every day even though those achievements don't always generate headlines. ACHIEVEability was one of nine nonprofits recognized for its impact on the city by the team with a grant from the Eagles Social Justice Fund. Established in 2018, the program has provided area-based organizations with more than $2.3 million in funding.
"Our job was to help in various ways, whether that would be giving people access to higher education, giving people access to steady housing for single parents, or helping people pursue home ownership," Bustion said. "There are various ways to break the cycle of poverty or learn about financial education and that is what ACHIEVEability really tries to push in our community."
Jamila Harris-Morrison had a similar experience as Bustion when she first saw an ad on craigslist for a social worker position at ACHIEVEability in 2006. Raised on 57th and Wynnefield streets in West Philadelphia, Harris-Morrison attended Samuel Gompers Elementary School then earned a scholarship to Friends Central High School through the Wynnefield Residents Association. Her family's household income was $22,000. She was attending high school classes with students who lived just a few blocks from her, but might as well have been in another world from a socio-economic standpoint.
"I grew up in West Philadelphia. I grew up in poverty," Harris-Morrison said. "And you know, it's very clear to me that poverty is manmade, which means we can undo it, right? I was very fortunate to have access to opportunities that helped catapult me out of poverty and I'm just really committed to providing those opportunities for my neighbors."
After graduating from Clark University in Massachusetts, Harris-Morrison returned home. When she learned about ACHIEVEability, she wished she had known about its services growing up. Now serving her community as the Executive Director of ACHIEVEability, Harris-Morrison is committed to one day not having her job because she doesn't want the need for it to exist.
"That's the ideal. We don't want to be here and we don't want to have to solve this problem. We want to have solutions that permanently keep people out of poverty," she said.
"Poverty is really complex, right? There's this financial aspect to it, which is lack and scarcity of resources. And Philadelphia is a little bit unique in that it also has deep pockets of racially and geographically concentrated poverty. So, it's not evenly distributed around the city. When you think about that, I think some of the challenges for communities getting out of poverty is that everyone around them is experiencing the same thing. And it makes it really difficult to see that the world could be different tangibly.
"I think there's a mental component, as well, believing that you can do it, having someone believe that you can do it or help you to believe. I think that's one of the special things about ACHIEVEability is that secret sauce is the hope that we're able to provide families to get up and fight another day, to keep pushing forward, to keep pushing their children forward, keep pushing our neighbors, but there's also a skills piece. How do we make sure that our neighbors are getting quality skills, education, so that they can be prepared for the job that exists?
"When I look at the families that we're working with, many of them are working two, sometimes three jobs. Hard work is not the challenge here. It's finding a job that pays the wages, allows you to have health insurance, gives you a safe opportunity. That's why, for me, it's really been focusing on how do we provide access to opportunities because we see when our families get opportunities, they make the most of them."
Harris-Morrison is a sparkplug, always on the go, whether it's meeting with residents, visiting local businesses, sharing the mission with potential donors, or engaging with her team to make sure that goals are being met. "It's the people" she serves that fuel her.
The Eagles, witnessing her effect on the community, named Harris-Morrison as the team's nominee for the NFL’s Changemaker Award, given to individuals making a difference across the NFL Inspire Change initiative's four focus areas: education, economic advancement, police-community relations, and criminal justice reform. For her win, the Eagles donated an extra $10,000 to ACHIEVEability and the team is also sending her on a trip to the Super Bowl.
"I definitely stand on the shoulders of my team, my family, my community, everybody who has poured into me to help me achieve the things that I have along the way. I feel like I'm sharing this award with those people," she said.
"She is wholeheartedly committed to the mission. I also really admire the fact that she, like myself, is a member of the community and she carries a lot of pride for West Philly," Bustion said. "The Changemaker Award will definitely help expose a lot of people to the great work happening at ACHIEVEability. I hope this recognition helps their work continue to grow and gives them the ability to help more families in West Philadelphia that need it."
Harris-Morrison senses that the tide is turning in Philadelphia.
"We didn't get here overnight. And unfortunately, that means we can't get ourselves out of it overnight," she said. "But I do feel hopeful and committed to the fact that we will get out of it in my lifetime and that's what keeps me going.
"Now's the time to really pull together, be innovative. That doesn't mean we're going to get it right 100 percent of the time. Part of trying anything big and new is knowing that there could be failure and challenges, but it's what's learned from them and the commitment to keep doing better.
"I think everyone activated in 2020 and 2021 when gun violence really started to soar. I think one thing that's been helpful is that there have been people who are living in those communities taking the lead to drive the solutions. There's no shortage of people. The more we can start to work collaboratively and connect the dots, this is the first time that there's been a sustained effort. I think this is something that really changes significantly in the next five to 10 years. There are finally a ton of resources, dedicated strategy, being invested to make gun violence a thing of the past."
According to the City Controller’s Office, gun violence homicides are down 23 percent in Philadelphia from last year.
"Gun violence is a senseless act that can have lifelong repercussions on the people in our community for generations," said Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. "It is completely preventable and is something that we, as a society, need to continue to prioritize and bring to the forefront. There are so many dedicated organizations and activists in our city who make it their mission to end gun violence. This year's A Fan of Change campaign is dedicated to them and their ongoing commitment to inspiring hope within our community."
"Everyone's circumstances are so different. One person's struggle as to why they choose a certain path isn't the next person's struggle and why they choose their path," Bustion said.
"It'd be easier if there was just one general problem and you could focus all the funding, all the effort, all the manpower to that problem and try to solve it. But because there are so many different issues, I think organizations like ACHIEVEability that offer many different resources for the community, they're really helping in a way that is encompassing of what's going on in the community and not necessarily just focusing on something that only a select number of people are going through.
"Working at an organization like ACHIEVEability and seeing the change in the younger generation firsthand helped me believe the tide can change. I may not even be that old compared to the youth I mentored at the time, but witnessing the positive impact that they can have and listening to their vision of what the world could be makes me hopeful that in the future, there could be more and more kids committed to making a difference.
"The community itself means a lot to my family. I know a lot of people feel that way being in Philly, there's a lot of pride. There's nothing like being from this city."
It's time to become A Fan of Change because change is really happening.