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Student advocates for citywide disability rights

Shawn Aleong, a continuing studies student, is a member of the city’s Police Advisory Commission.

Shawn Aleong’s Facebook account is riddled with pictures of him with politicians like Mayor Jim Kenney and Sen. Bob Casey.

Aleong, a continuing studies student and disability rights activist,  spent the summer advocating for Medicaid at City Hall and even on Capitol Hill. Recently, he took on a new activist role: improving the relationship between Philadelphia’s police department and the community.

“The community is key,” Aleong said.

In January, Aleong will officially enroll as a legal studies major. He started at Temple’s Academy for Adult Learning, which is a four-semester certificate program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. As a continuing studies student, he is currently enrolled in a non-degree program.

Last month, he was recommended by City Councilman Derek Green and appointed by Kenney to the city’s Police Advisory Commission. The group of 13 hosts monthly public meetings where civilians can file and discuss complaints.

“I want to foster a strong relationship between the city, the police and the community,” Aleong said.

He spent his summer interning for Temple Police. Aleong, who has an intellectual disability, crafted a module on how police should interact with people with disabilities while on duty, which he plans to present to Temple Police leaders so the skills can be used in future officer training.

As a member of the Police Advisory Commission, Aleong plans to bring attention to civil rights issues, he said.

“On this advisory board, I’m going to make sure that all residents of Philadelphia, especially marginalized groups, feel safe and secure,”  he said.  “I’m also going to make sure that I help to make this OK country into a great country.”

Community involvement is nothing new for Aleong. Since he came to Temple in 2015, Aleong has become intertwined with campus activism. He is a member of the Black Law Students Association, Pre-Law Division, the Black Student Union and Philadelphia’s NAACP.

“Every day, I get to see a true hero coming to work and wanting to make the world a better place.”

CHARLIE LEONE
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CAMPUS SAFETY SERVICES

“I truly believe I am a better person for knowing and working with Aleong,” said Charlie Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services. “Every day, I get to see a true hero coming to work and wanting to make the world a better place.”

In July, Aleong advocated for people with disabilities at City Hall, speaking about the importance of Medicaid. Later that month, he traveled to Capitol Hill with Casey to deliver a speech on the Americans with Disabilities Act and commemorate the law’s the 27th anniversary.

“Shawn is a daily inspiration showing his commitment and passion never letting his disability overshadow his constant positive attitude and accomplishments,” Leone said.

Aleong points to his experience at Temple as one of his biggest influences.

“Because I go to Temple, I feel like it’s my duty to advocate for minority groups and for people with and without disabilities,” Aleong said. “Being on Temple’s campus has taught me to be a better, more well-rounded person.”

As part of Temple Student Government, Aleong serves as the deputy director of campus safety and works closely with Student Body President, Tyrell Mann-Barnes.

“Working with Shawn is an amazing experience every day,” Mann-Barnes said. “He comes in with new ideas daily that keep me on my toes.”

One of his legal studies professors, James Lammendola, recalls meeting Aleong before he was even enrolled in Lammendola’s class.

“His keen interest and passion for law was apparent, especially social justice issues and the area of disability law,” Lammendola wrote in an email. “He would ask about the challenges of practicing law and what it was like.”

When Lammendola taught Law and Society, Aleong was constantly contributing to class discussion, the professor wrote.   

“He reminds me of the good in the world when the bad gets me down,” Lammendola wrote. “People like Aleong validate my decision to leave the practice of law for academics. He is an example of a person who takes advantage of opportunities and appears to create them.”

Maha Ouni

can be reached at maha.ouni@temple.edu
Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews

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