18-year-old committee person represents new generation in politics

Shania Bennett was too young to vote in the 2017 November election by two days.

Now 18 years old, she is among the youngest people to hold elected office in the city.

Bennett was voted in as committee person for the 48th District 12 Division in May, which is a four-year term, and then appointed Board Secretary.

“The first time I voted, I was on the ballot,” Bennett said with a laugh.

The soft-spoken South Philadelphia teenager spoke Thursday at state Rep. Jordan Harris’ Point Breeze office on Thursday, where she works providing constituent services. Bennet, who doesn’t have a car but does have her license, took an Uber to the office.

After a few months in office and attending two committee meetings, Bennett said she is still in learning-mode, but has been surprised about how often residents in her Ward seek her out to help solve their issues.

Some of those issues include dealing with illegal dumping, having more public trash receptacles, residents’ utilities being cut off.

Bennett decided to run for committee person after spotting an Instagram post for a committee meeting. When she attended that Ward meeting, she noticed there weren’t any young people there bringing up issues affecting their lives.

“Sometimes, I feel like young people are the forgotten aspect of the community,” she said. “We will be adults in a few years; we’re young adults at the moment but, you know, these issues will begin to start affecting us as we really enter our adulthood.

“And I was like, I’ve got to do something about this,” she added.

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Although Bennett is not the youngest to be elected as a committee person this year, the occurrence is rare.

At the time of the May election, there were seven 18-year-olds elected as committee people, and Bennett was the fourth youngest.

In the fall, the first-generation college student will be attending Penn State Abington, a campus of Pennsylvania State University, where she will major in criminal justice. She hopes to become an attorney and, possibly, a judge.

Bennett also received her associate degree before she graduated from high school. She received her high school diploma in June from Girard Academic Music Program, a college preparatory school in the district, which was after receiving her associate degree in criminal justice from the Community College of Philadelphia in May.

In the coming months, Bennett will also become a licensed minister.

The interest in criminal justice and the ministry must be in Bennett’s blood: Her brother is a officer in the Philadelphia Police Department; her other brother is a pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship in Germantown, the latter of whom also is enrolled in a doctorate program at Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice.

She currently lives with her father, an Army veteran, in South Philadelphia. Bennett said she’ll commute to Penn State Abington while living at home so she can fulfill her committee person duties.

After spending the previous two summers as a full-time student at PCC, Bennett has been enjoying the summer playing basketball at local recreation centers, and attending rallies and community events. She also found time to catch Beyonce perform at Lincoln Financial Field.

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She also began a non-violence initiative with friends called Reach 4 Peace. The group put on a basketball tournament in May to raise awareness about the young lives killed by gun violence in Philadelphia.

Bennett’s interest in politics began before she could vote.

She worked on the successful campaigns of Court of Common Pleas Judge Deborah Canty and District Attorney Larry Krasner, where she knocked on thousands of doors. That experience also inspired her to run for committee person.

Asked why she wanted to get involved in those campaigns, Bennett said: “Ultimately, (voting) impacts everyone around you.”

That’s the message she relates to her peers.

Bennett’s goal is to register hundreds of young people to vote in the upcoming November election, when she’ll be able to cast her first ballot in a general election.

Among top issues young people are concerned about in the city are gun violence, access to quality recreation centers, and availability to quality programs, according to Bennett.

“If no one is really listening to their (young people’s) problems or their concerns or issues, it’s like, ‘why should I care about my response … or, why should I vote at all?’” she said.

While many women of color hold elected office in Philadelphia, Bennett said that is not reflected on the national level — a trend that could change as more and more women of color are seeking political office this year.

“I feel a lot of people are looking for that,” Bennett said about having more women of color seeking office.

In 2018 there were 38 women of color in Congress, with women overall making up 20 percent of the 535 members in the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

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