This is part of "Leaders of Color" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. Find the series here.
A legitimate “Tale of Two Cities” narrative exists in Philadelphia.
There’s the Philadelphia of wealth and prosperity, stretching from Center City out to University City and Northern Liberties. Then there’s Philadelphia the city of neighborhoods, where marginalized communities of color and low socioeconomic status wave at City Hall from the city’s margins.
David Gould has been exposed to both.
The William Penn Foundation program officer was born and raised in the predominately Black neighborhood of Germantown. Growing up, Gould was an avid 76ers fan with childhood dreams of playing in the NBA. He also understood the notion of giving back to his community, due in part to his Quaker education at Germantown Friends School (GFS).
Unlike the kids in his neighborhood, the majority of Gould’s classmates at the private school were white and of privilege.
"My guiding career principle has been to have a positive impact on the community I grew up in."
“Growing up in that part of the city and going to a school like GFS shined a light on the different realities you can have growing up in the city,” said Gould, the biracial son of a school teacher and a union rep. “Not everybody is afforded the same opportunities.”
Gould said his exposure to those two “very different realities of the American experience” is a big part of who he is and what he hopes to accomplish: provide communities like the one he grew up in with the same opportunities that are afforded to people like the students he went to school with.
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“Leveling that playing field is something that motivates me to come into work every day,” said Gould, speaking with the reserved confidence of a polished diplomat. “My guiding career principle has been to have a positive impact on the community I grew up in.”
He’s at the right place to do it. At William Penn, Gould’s charge is to find public space projects, specifically projects that engage communities in underserved West and Southwest neighborhoods. The local political climate is ripe for launching community-first initiatives, too.
The importance of making room at the table for community stakeholders during decision-making processes is being talked about “more and more,” he said, ensuring changes are reflective of the needs and desires of communities. That political will lends well to Gould’s personal mission: He’s in a position to ensure the projects William Penn is funding have a “robust community engagement” component to them.
“We believe communities are best equipped to engage with the public sector, with institutions and developers if they are organized themselves,” he said.
"This period of growth isn't going to last forever."
That mobilization needs to happen quickly. A critical question for the city right now, Gould said, is how the city can leverage its strengths to solve big challenges like housing and education.
“This period of growth isn’t going to last forever,” he said. “The real question is how can we best take advantage of it to make ourselves a strong and more equitable city.”
The West Philly resident might have flown the Germantown coop, but his passion for investing in communities is evident in his activity outside of the foundation. In addition to serving as the vice president of his church’s scholarship program, Gould sits on the board of Philadelphia Youth Basketball, a civic-minded nonprofit working to empower and engage youth civically.
Gould still plays three times a week, and even though he has long-since replaced his hoop dreams with dreams of socioeconomic equality, don’t let the suit and tie fool you. The one thing he wants strangers to know about him?
“I can probably kick their butt in basketball.”