How Tamir Harper is already making his mark on the public education system
The incoming AU freshman founded a nonprofit focused on improving urban education
Tamir Harper believes that every student, particularly those living in cities, deserves a quality education. That’s why the incoming freshman co-founded the nonprofit UrbEd with his high school classmate Luke Risher in 2016 -- to help reform urban education, especially in Philadelphia, Harper’s hometown.
Harper’s student-led nonprofit advocates for students and families that are being deprived of “a quality and efficient urban education,” according to its website. Creating the organization was important to him because he is “a product of the Philadelphia public school system,” he said.
Harper was a student at the “best and the worst” public schools in Philadelphia, graduating from Philadelphia Science Leadership Academy earlier this year.
“For sixth grade, I went to Tilden Middle School, which I can tell you was rated one of the worst middle schools in the city of Philadelphia,” Harper said. “So I’ve seen the inequities and the problems in my school system.”
One of UrbEd’s biggest accomplishments is the publication of a data report on the Philadelphia public education system, Harper said. Teacher diversity is one of the organization’s main focuses, Harper said, and the report found that only 4.5 percent of Philadelphia’s public school teachers are black men.
The report also included student input on issues including school suspensions and building conditions.
“It’s not just a statistical data report. It’s a report that has student testimonies” and “expert testimonies,” Harper said. It was important for the group to gather feedback from students on how they would like to see their schools improved, he said.
In May, Harper met former First Lady Michelle Obama at a speech she gave to Philadelphia high school students at a College Signing Day event, according to PhillyVoice. Obama introduced Harper at the event and he joined her onstage.
“It was an amazing honor to be selected,” Harper said.
Before he heads to AU in the fall, Harper still continues to work on behalf of his community in Philadelphia as an intern for Pennsylvania state Rep. Joanna McClinton, who represents the city in the state’s House of Representatives.
“My favorite thing about working with her is being able to serve the constituents in my neighborhood,” Harper said.
Harper will receive a full scholarship to AU through the Frederick Douglass Scholarship Program, a highly selective honors program for “American University’s most ambitious student and alumni leaders,” according to the University’s website.
“The campus was beautiful, the diversity looks great, the president is down-to-earth and also a former Obama administrator, which excited me,” Harper said of his decision to attend AU.
Harper saw coming to AU as an “opportunity to be with a group of folks that carry themselves to high standards.” He plans to double major in public relations and secondary education at AU. After college, Harper plans to become a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system.
When speaking of his motivation to work for education reform, Harper mentioned his nephews, who will start first grade this fall.
“They can’t go through the public system that I went through,” Harper said. “They cannot be uneducated … They can’t be exposed to a system that’s not educating them and telling them to reach their full potential. That’s why I’m at school for public education.”