By Jenna Lofaro
A lifetime activist and educator, Evelyn Jones Rich refers to herself as a “troublemaker.” From the time she was a young girl growing up in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia she was pushing the boundaries of society. This can be seen in an anecdote she tells about her first job as a papergirl.
She says that her brothers were all paperboys and she decided that she was going to go out, distribute papers, and earn money for herself too. However, her gender created opposition with her employer stating, “there’s no such thing as a paper girl, whose has ever heard of such a thing?” Despite this, the young Evelyn convinced him to hire her and she kept her paper route for a couple of years.
Instances like this have been reoccurring throughout Evelyn’s life. In more current times, she has been working as a social justice activist for civil rights, effective education, and senior citizens.
One of the foundations she has worked with, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, works to provide collaborations between art and social justice projects. They also work to make grants available to needy areas and communities of the city. Her current project is a virtual museum that exposes the culture and history of the laboring people through visual works of art.
Asked why both of her foundations have to do with visual art, her response was, “I myself am a visual learner and this is the best way I can think of to really get the message across simply while creating a lasting image in their minds.”
Professionally, Evelyn Jones Rich is a very successful teacher and professor. She stresses the importance of education and the impact it has of the entirety of one’s life. Her passion for knowledge started as a young girl in the library. She says, “there was not always money for books, but the library was always there.”
She still passionately believes in the importance of having books readily available to children saying that it’s the best way to self-educate and open up their minds. Teaching also gave her some of the most memorable and valuable experiences in her life. Once she was a principal at an inner-city school that was in danger of failing and that had been left in ruin. The walls, she described, were covered in graffiti and some of the teachers had lost their motivation to actually teach the students.
Her colleagues joked that Evelyn would not last in this environment for three months, but she did it for years. In those years, she turned the school around and reinvigorated the passion for learning that had been missing from its hallways. As she continued she remembered running into some of her old students on the street. They told her, “we really hated you when you were our principal, but what you did really helped us and gave us a chance to succeed.”
Statements like these she says are what have encouraged her and let her know that her life was meaningful.
Overall, Evelyn Jones Rich truly is a “troublemaker,” as she put it. She continues to give those who pass through life voiceless and ignored a way to speak by pushing the boundaries of society as much as she personally can. She wants to educate the community on how important these people truly are and how unnoticed their work goes. However, without these kinds of people our society would not be the same.