Why I Started Sunny Camden

Yesterday, an essay I wrote appeared as a guest post on Stephen Danley’s Local Knowledge Blog. I’ve posted my essay below for those who didn’t catch it yesterday.

Danley is an assistant professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University in Camden. On his blog, he comments on and analyzes issues and news items from the city. It’s a great blog, and it’s really worth reading for anyone interested in Camden. You can follow him on Twitter at @SteveDanley.


 Why I Started Sunny Camden

When I was working at a store in Blackwood, N.J. (just 15 minutes outside of Camden), a friend asked me about a party in Camden one night. My manager all but dropped her price-tag gun, shouting, “You’re going into Camden? Tonight?” What’s the big deal, we asked her. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that city,” she told us. “You guys are foolish.”

And that’s pretty much how conversations about Camden go. I grew up in the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, and I knew from an early age to stay out of “that city.” I don’t remember actually learning this lesson; it feels like I have known it from birth. So I was surprised when I learned the there was a branch of Rutgers University in Camden (and other colleges!), that people lived in the city, and that they actually survived there. It was as if Camden was a real, living city.

During my four years at Rutgers-Camden, those lessons became even clearer. I learned to see the city as a place full of residents instead of a crime story filled with statistics. But I realized that the outside world didn’t learn with me. People still feared Camden, and they still scooted to and from the waterfront with the windows up and the doors locked.

Crime stories and police blotters, though necessary, certainly don’t help this fear of Camden. That’s why I always get a little excited whenever I see something about the city that isn’t a murder report; stories about new development, about the city’s history, or about the city’s people. I want to rip those stories out of the newspaper and run to the nearest person who’ll listen and say, “See? Camden isn’t as bad as you think! Just give it a chance.”

So I started Sunny Camden, a place where I can share those overlooked stories about Camden that portray it as a living city filled with human beings who live, work, and play just like the rest of us. Sure, there’s crime and there’s danger, more so than other cities across the nation, and we shouldn’t ignore those, but a well-rounded picture of Camden is important for the city and for South Jersey as a whole. There’s room out there for the heart-warming stories, the weird stories, and the just plain interesting stories that the City Invincible churns out.

So join me and we can change the conversation about Camden, one story at a time.

 

Michael Russell

Blogger-in-Chief, Sunny Camden

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