Shalimar Thomas credits a lot of where she is now to the people who would constantly encourage her when she was growing up in North Philly.
As a teenage mom who had her first and second sons at the ages of 15 and 16 and dropped out of high school, Thomas felt how many others may feel in the same situation: “It wasn’t looking good for me.”
But thanks to that motivation from others, Thomas soon found herself enrolling back into Simon Gratz High School and later earning a diploma from an alternative school (the second ever in her family to do so), getting into the Community College of Philadelphia, earning a B.A. in public relations at Temple University and eventually becoming the executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce.
“I had people who saw things in me when I didn’t see them myself,” she said.
Now, with two years under her belt as the executive director of North Broad Renaissance (NBR), Thomas is responsible for being that same kind of advocate in revitalizing North Broad Street’s commercial corridor — for believing in what it can be so others will follow suit.
Part of that effort could be seen last month when Thomas took some of NBR’s fiscal stakeholders on a bus ride up the corridor, from City Hall to Germantown, to see the improvements being made for themselves and hear from Thomas on what other efforts are being set in motion.
That economic development facet of NBR’s five-year, four-goal plan for attracting and retaining business development along North Broad is currently the nonprofit’s biggest focus and requires Thomas to be an active and attentive connector, something she said she and the organization is definitely getting better at.
It’s to the point at which Thomas is willing to ask, “What’s it going to take for you to come to North Broad?”
"What’s it going to take for you to come to North Broad?"
But in an area like North Philly and especially around Temple, where it is becoming apparent that the community is asking for more respect, Thomas knows the importance of keeping community at the forefront of everything NBR does. In fact, she said its four goals came about after going out into the community and asking what members would want to see from the organization.
For Thomas, who grew up in the 19140 zip code near Temple University Hospital, her biggest goal is implementing a “health zone” in that area — bringing in health-related businesses and services — and as soon as possible. Thomas especially wants to tackle the preventable disease problem faced by that area’s population: Yes, jobs and business development are important, but community members need to be healthy to even enjoy the benefits brought about, Thomas said.
“That’s the biggest thing that we’re looking at, to make sure we’re not just attracting jobs for the sake of them being job creators but that we’re attracting jobs that can support this community as well,” she said.
It’s all part of the organization’s mantra, #ThinkBroad, in remembering that economic development and community betterment aren’t or, at the very least, shouldn’t be two separate concepts.
The biggest struggle so far for Thomas? Well, those light poles near Temple were certainly a brain drain for her at the time. As of late, she said “working in a public space and managing what that means” has been a bit stressful, which could be something as seemingly simple as fixing one of NBR’s new banners.
As the leader of a nonprofit though, Thomas is used to the struggle, especially when it comes to the lack of resources, something she approaches in the way she used to tackle it when she was growing up in North Philly.
“You just get it done,” she said. “You don’t worry about what resources you don’t have because you never had resources — you didn’t realize that was a bad thing, you just realized this was something we had to work around.”