West Philadelphia restaurateur Algernong Allen says urban communities deserve more attention.
On first blush, President Obama and Algernong Allen have little in common. One runs the U.S. and the other runs the restaurant Elena's Soul in Philadelphia. But as you'll see, the economy ties the two together.
Sometimes you've just got to go with your gut. That's what Algernong Allen did nearly five years ago, when the nation's economy was at its lowest depth in decades and he turned a declining restaurant in West Philadelphia into Elena's Soul. Allen, 39, previously worked in computer technology and owns investment properties, but took a risk and is glad he did.
"I started my business at the worst point in the economy, so there was only going up from there," Allen said. "But I think the general economic improvement during the time that President Obama has been in office has raised the tide for everyone."
Allen credits the president with stabilizing a "volatile" economy and says he knows people who were working in the financial industry who "looked like they were about to jump off the side of the building" in "extreme panic." He also praised the administration's efforts to keep interest rates low, provide payroll tax cuts that benefit small businesses like his and strengthen the housing market, which Allen believes has had a ripple effect on his community.
The restauranteur would like to see the next president — Obama or Mitt Romney — focus a good deal more attention on urban communities. West Philadelphia and cities like it across the nation, he said, face a number of challenges, including high unemployment and crime rates. Sometimes, as in his community, the two go hand in hand.
"The criminal histories of a large portion of our population in the urban neighborhoods have prevented them from getting gainful employment," he said, as well as a lack of family structure and two-parent households that encourage children to be productive participants of society.
Allen's concerned, however, is that Republican administrations have not historically taken a strong interest in urban communities. Romney, he believes, would give preferential treatment to the corporate sector, which could "return us to a state of freefall" that occurred at the end of President George W. Bush's administration.
"Romney's background doesn't necessarily show he'd do anything to improve cities and things associated with cities like education and issues that make living in an urban environment better," Allen said. "Most Republican administrations tend to negatively impact the Black community. If we look at [both] Bush administrations or the Reagan administration, these were not the greatest times in urban communities."
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(Photo: Courtesy elenassoul.com)