Congressman Dwight Evans has dedicated his life to the cause of urban renewal, working to provide economic and educational opportunity to those who too often live in the shadows, the poor and underserved.
His commitment has resulted in the rebirth of once-blighted neighborhoods along Philadelphia’s Ogontz Avenue, in West Oak Lane, an area that now serves as a magnet for working families with a stable housing base, safe schools, a thriving commerce center, low crime rate, and vibrant cultural scene.
Dwight grew up in North Philadelphia, one of five children. Today, he lives just blocks from Germantown High School, his alma mater.
After graduating from the Community College of Philadelphia and LaSalle University, Dwight went to work as a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, and later as a job developer for the Urban League of Philadelphia.
In 1980, at the age of 26, Dwight was first elected State Representative from the 203rd Legislative District. Far from being a “go-along-get-along” legislator, Dwight stood out for his tenacity in working to help the people he represents. Over the course of 36 years, he earned a reputation as a pragmatic leader who knows how to put public policy above politics.
In 1986, Dwight led a hard-fought, historic effort to win approval from city officials and state leaders to build a new convention center in Philadelphia, which has since provided tens of billions of dollars in economic impact, creating thousands of jobs.
Dwight made history in 1990 by becoming the first African-American Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Dwight held the post for two decades. In that role, he was instrumental in helping Philadelphia and communities across Pennsylvania receive funding for economic development, job training, education, infrastructure and the arts.
A champion for teachers and innovation in education, Dwight helped start the West Oak Lane Charter School, a unionized school, which has helped teach thousands of kids from grades K-8.
One of Dwight’s proudest achievements has been his work to combat hunger and increase access to quality foods in underserved communities. He was the creator of Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, linking public and private funds to expand and build grocery stores in “food deserts” across the state. Because of this effort nearly 100 grocery stores have moved into areas that previously had little or limited to fresh fruit and vegetables, and more than 5,000 jobs have been created.
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative was widely recognized as one of the top public policy initiatives in the country by major newspapers and Harvard University. As such, the Obama administration championed Dwight’s approach and used the Pennsylvania initiative as a model for the nation, replicating it in several other states across the country, including California, New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Illinois.
A longtime advocate for public transportation, Dwight has worked to secure dedicated, predictable and sufficient state revenues for mass transit throughout the commonwealth. In 1991, he helped establish the Public Transportation Assistance Fund, the first dedicated funding source for mass transit. In 2005, Dwight forged the establishment of a Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, an initiative adopted by former Gov. Ed Rendell that provided strategies to stabilize transit funding. In 2013, Dwight worked in a bi-partisan manner with former Gov. Tom Corbett for approval of Act 89, which provided a comprehensive statewide funding plan for transportation.
Dwight was part of Philadelphia’s “Gang of Five,” a bi-partisan group of legislative leaders focused on reducing crime and improving police/community relations in Philadelphia. Statewide, he was a vocal advocate for common sense handgun policies.
In November 2013, Dwight released his political biography, “Making Ideas Matter: My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur.” Written with Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Ecenbarger, and published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, the biography describes how good politicians can compromise without abandoning moral principles. It is intended to shed insight on how to mobilize political power to achieve enlightened goals in a democracy. The book serves as a primer for students of policy, political junkies, lovers of history, and anyone else whose still has faith that public service is a noble calling.
Over the course of his career in public service, Dwight has lectured around the country on his signature public policy initiatives. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University.
In February 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Dwight to the board of directors of the five-county Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, known as SEPTA. Evans is the chair of SEPTA’s Budget Committee.