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PC Profile: Kamal Marell OPC ’06

Since graduating from Penn Charter, Kamal Marell OPC ’06 has been an educator, a social worker, a collaborator and an advocate. Perhaps mostly, he is a relationship builder.

Headshot of Kamal Marell OPC '06

Marell is executive director of a nonprofit coffee shop in Philadelphia. Although it serves up lattés and breakfast paninis to local families and professionals, the Monkey and the Elephant isn’t just a café— it doubles as an employment training program for young adults ages 18-24 who have aged out of foster care.

Former foster kids, Marell said, “are often forgotten about in the city and on the national level. The services they receive drop drastically after they reach 18, and they aren’t necessarily given the tools to help navigate the next phase of their adult lives.” Resources that are available to them are difficult to navigate.

This is where the Monkey and the Elephant comes in. What began as a pop-up around the city is now a brick-and-mortar shop in Brewerytown committed to paying young people a liveable wage while providing employment training—transferable skills they can use in future jobs, like customer service, and opening and closing the shop. Optional shift-leader training goes a step further, teaching management skills and helping participants earn state certification in food service management.

Partnering with city organizations such as the Department of Human Services, Philadelphia Youth Network and the Achieving Independence Center, the Monkey and the Elephant also provides housing resources and financial literacy programming. And for those young people who have dropped out of high school or want to continue their education, Marell helps connect them with trade schools and the Community College of Philadelphia, which offers GED exam preparation courses and a path to a college education.

The goal, Marell said of his work with former foster children, “is making sure they are empowered individuals ready to thrive in the early phases of their young adult lives.”

What drew him to this work? “The satisfaction of knowing that I am using my resources and my network to help change the trajectory of young adults' lives,” he answered. “And as a Black man, I know that young adults who are Black and brown between 18 and 24 are disproportionately left out when it comes to certain access and opportunities.”

Marell’s career trajectory has focused on nonprofits since he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Clemson University in 2010 and returned to Philadelphia to work as a family services case manager and an adoption and kinship care manager. While earning an MEd in urban education and leadership at Temple University, he continued to serve the city’s youth, first as a programming coordinator at People’s Emergency Center and then as a program manager for parents and children.

Before that, Marell spent a year in the pilot group of the Independent Schools Teaching Fellows Program of Greater Philadelphia—a PC- initiated program—learning to teach middle school civics at both Penn Charter and the nearby St. James School. Looking through a teacher’s lens and comparing the educational access of the young adults he worked with at PC and those he has worked with in social services has made him determined to find a leadership position to effect change, to help young people create their own supportive community.

He began to understand the educational landscape, he said, “not only as someone who worked in social services but someone who cares about educational policy and what that looks like for different groups of kids throughout the country.”

Moving forward, Marell sees himself continuing to be a thought leader and an advocate in the city of Philadelphia as well as applying his experience with the Monkey and the Elephant to build bridges between corporate partners and communities. “A lot of issues can be solved,” he said, “if there are conversations between for-profits and nonprofits to see how we can make communities better for the next generation.”

Marell wants to expand educational access and opportunities for “thoughtful and intentional community programming—listening to what community members need and working on their behalf.” He envisions corporate partners learning about the specific barriers a population faces, from housing to mental health support to food security, and then using their influence and resources to provide solutions. And he wants to make that happen. His education and his experience in city social services have led him here.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “what I’m doing, how I'm serving and who I’m serving has been influenced by Penn Charter—in a way that’s intentional.”

 – Rebecca Luzi