Tim Whitaker, executive director of Mighty Writers, believes all Philadelphian kids should be able to transform their imaginations into stories.
On July 26, Whitaker’s belief came to fruition as about 3,000 kids used their imaginations on the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for “Most People to Write a Story.”
According to Michael Empric, a representative of Guinness World Records who attended the event, Mighty Writers did not set a world record because more than 10 percent of kids present did not “participate fully”. The current record was set in 2013 by a group of 1,178 people writing in China.
For Whitaker, the real victory of the day was promoting literacy in the city and continuing Philadelphia’s “great oral tradition”, Mighty Writers’ main focus as an organization.
“Writing is becoming a lost skill,” he said. “In many schools, math, science and standardized testing push writing to the back of the bus. Part of our mission is to get writing back where it belongs which is front and center.”
Mighty Writers has offices in North, West and South Philadelphia, and its headquarters is only blocks away from Temple’s campus at the Church of the Advocate at Diamond and 18th streets. The organization offers year-round services including writing workshops, tutoring sessions and homework help, reaching about 2,500 kids a year.
Participants at the Mighty Writers’ attempt to break the world record ranged between the ages of seven and 17. Each child wrote an essay based on the topic “If I was president…” in honor of the Democratic National Convention being held at Wells Fargo Center that week.
City Representative Sheila Hess urged kids to keep dreaming and writing so they can “have an impact on the world.”
Hess also presented Mighty Writers with a citation signed by Mayor Kenney recognizing the organization’s dedication to creating educational opportunities.
“These students are brilliant,” Hess later told Temple News. “These students have ideas that can resonate and we need to hear these ideas. This is the next generation of leaders in our great city.”
Mighty Writers, which was founded in 2009, exists in a financial and educational climate combating the organization’s goals. Whitaker labelled the city’s 35 percent high school dropout rate as “unacceptable and ridiculous.”
Sandee Mandell, a retired Philadelphia school teacher and volunteer for Mighty Writers, said writing helps kids focus on the “good in society.”
“If they listen to everything that’s in the media, they would have a real problem distinguishing what’s important and what’s not,” she said.
To Whitaker and students, the benefits of improved literacy skills seem boundless.
Despite kids’ young ages, Whitaker thinks they have “a lot going on inside them” and expression is necessary for success as they grow.
Marneisha Cottle, an eighth grader at People for People Charter School and a student present at the event, has been a part of Mighty Writers since “forever.”
“[Mighty Writers] helped me broaden my perspective,” Cottle said. “It’s an opportunity to see different stuff, meet new people and just see a different side of life.”
Without Philadelphia as a setting, the stories Mighty Writers crafts in kids would not be the same.
“There’s characters in every neighborhood and on every block,” Whitaker said. “There’s funny things that happen and weird things that happen. Kids just are able to take all that in.”
“I believe in Philly kids,” he added. “They’re the greatest around.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.