Andre D. Carroll is running to represent a community he’s known his whole life

Andre D. Carroll stands among a group of people who are all people of color out front of a local coffee shop. They smile and laugh together, holding clip boards.
Andre D. Carroll and supporters at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books on Germantown Ave. Pictured from left to right: Lakesha Godwin, Andre D. Carroll, Teshima Barnes, Michael Galvan, T Bah, & Terrell Bullock. (Photo: Courtesy of Jordan Teicher)

“This campaign, for me, is about lived experiences,” said Andre D. Carroll, who hopes to become the state representative for district 201. “I’m running not just because I’m qualified but also because I have the lived experience of many Philadelphians.”

“This campaign — this movement — is a multicultural and multigenerational movement,” he added. Caroll was born and raised in the district he’s seeking to represent and said he understands the issues that impact his community. Each of his top concerns — criminal justice reform, education and the needs of families — come from his personal experiences.

“I’ve been a criminal justice advocate for the last half a decade. I’ve been doing a lot of work with juveniles up on State Road in the prisons,” explained Carroll, whose father was imprisoned for a nonviolent drug offense throughout most of Carroll’s life. “So I’m deeply connected to that, and it’s also related to my commitment to fully funding our education system.”

Carroll graduated from Germantown High School, which was closed during the Michael Nutter administration and will become a mixed-use development with apartments soon. Now, there’s only one high school in the district, which Carroll feels determined to protect.

He’s seen the devastating effects of mold and asbestos in other school buildings, which threatens the safety of students in numerous neighborhoods. When those schools close, few effective solutions exist to serve their students, and it’s often the most marginalized — those who don’t have access to charters or transportation to alternatives — who suffer.

“I truly believe that when it comes to investing in our schools, we have to disproportionately invest in the districts that have been divested from,” Carroll said. “These schools are not being invested in, and the school to prison pipeline — that’s a very real thing.”

He is empathetic to people who have had limited opportunities and recognizes that those without access to better options sometimes turn to what he called “unproductive” or criminal activities to make ends meet.

“They’re looking for band aid solutions because these folks have been underserved for so long. They’re looking for real opportunities to survive,” he said.

“In my zip code, the median household income is below $33,000 per year,” Carroll added, explaining that he hopes to help Pennsylvania raise the minimum wage to a livable standard. “I want to give people in this community a real opportunity to economically move forward — a real opportunity to thrive.”

“I was born in 1991 — right in the midst of the crack epidemic and the mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities. And the reality is — unfortunately, 30 years later, as I sit inside of some of these prisons, I listen to the stories of some of these young people and it’s reflective of who I am. I hear that same story — of their parents being taken away by some of these ills or an unfortunate economic situation,” he said.

Carroll explained that when incarcerated people lose access to many basic rights — including access to relationships with their families — it becomes more difficult for them to be rehabilitated and more likely their circumstances might lead them to reoffend. Carroll noted that people seeking parole are faced with unreasonable hurdles and those who qualify for expungement often lack the resources to pursue it. These are all issues he said need to be addressed.

“Why do we make it so hard for people to re-enter society?” he emphasized.

Gov. Shapiro mentioned the need to legalize marijuana in his recent budget address. With this possibility approaching, Carroll believes Black and Brown communities — who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs — should have “first dibs on the investment in these substances” as a way to repair their lives and communities.

Carroll was raised by a single parent — his grandmother — due to his mother’s substance abuse and his father’s incarceration. This made him a passionate advocate for older Philadelphians.

One of his top interests is “family care with an emphasis on elder care,” he said. “I was raised by a senior — and in the district that I’m running to represent, 60% of the district is 60 or over 60 years old.”

Carroll’s grandmother died in 2009, just a few months after he graduated high school — and he suddenly had to provide for himself. He worked in the service industry then a call center before interning at JP Morgan as he pursued a bachelor’s degree — but he had to drop out due to the expense.

“It was a lot on a young person,” he said. “I had to sacrifice my education to work.”

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas — who has now endorsed Carroll — became his mentor and offered him a job at the city controller’s office, where Thomas was Director of Community Affairs. That position allowed Carroll to utilize some of the knowledge he gained as an economics major. One of the accomplishments he’s most proud of is the work he did on the city’s pension program.

“What I found when I looked at these hedge funds was that they lacked a lot of diversity,” he explained, underlining that he was able to make recommendations to change that approach. “I think we should be very intentional that the folks who control these funds should look like the folks who this money belongs to.”

That job also gave him a “city-wide view” of the needs of people and families across Philadelphia.

“Being a young, Black queer person, it even gave me the opportunity to really learn more about the disparities that happen in the community that I’m a part of — to learn about things I never experienced myself,” he added, underlining that he learned about the prevalence of homelessness among LGBTQ+ people.

“If I’m not leading with it, it sometimes gets ignored,” he said about his queer identity. “But it’s a part of who I am, and I’m very proud of who that is. I’m really proud of who I am. I’m just as excited to be able to talk about that part of my life.”

He hopes to help the commonwealth cross the finish line when it comes to improving and solidifying laws that protect and uplift queer and otherwise marginalized people. If his campaign is successful, he would only become the second Black, gay man to be elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Carroll’s relationship with Thomas helped him recognize that his goals could be tangible realities.

“I’ve watched this person who comes from a community just like mine, who does not have parents or family members who are connected to the political system. This is the person who had to write three times to get his seat. And I see myself in that,” said Carroll. “He’s a person I have a close relationship with.”

“I think folks need to see themselves in government,” he added. 

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