As a teenager in northwest Philadelphia, Cherelle Parker walked every day past the blighted Ogontz Avenue commercial corridor. Officials had talked forever about cleaning it up, but nothing changed. Then, “there came this tall, skinny guy,” she says, “and I watched him change our community literally one building at a time.” That man was state Rep. Dwight Evans; Parker volunteered for his community efforts and eventually his re-election campaign. The experience roped her in.
Parker went on to become the youngest African-American woman ever elected to the Pennsylvania House, in 2005, where she served for a decade with Evans. In the House, she fought for years for a bill to allow experts to testify in sexual assault cases; it finally passed in 2012 after Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sexual abuse scandal. Parker also pushed through a $2-per-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia to generate more money for schools and a historic $2.3 billion transportation bill for the state. Now she’s in her first term as city councilmember and is taking on issues including retirement security and protecting seniors from potentially harmful financial products like reverse mortgages. “I love fixing things for individuals, for the community,” she says.