State’s new ID cards coming in March

by Victoria Lavelle

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Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will begin issuing Real ID’s in March. Image courtesy of PennDOT

For college students across Pennsylvania, the countdown has begun on current driver licenses as they are all set to expire in a little over a year as the state introduces new, federally compliant REAL ID driver’s licenses beginning next month.

Beginning in October 2020, Pennsylvanians will be required to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, photo ID card, or another form of federally-acceptable identification (such as a valid passport or military ID) when they board a domestic commercial flight or enter a federal building or military installation that requires ID.

Getting a REAL ID is optional for Pennsylvania residents, but they will be available in March 2019 to Pennsylvanians who want them.

The Real ID Law passed in 2005 under President George W. Bush to keep America safer from terrorism by making it harder to obtain an identification card.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission found considerable differences regarding the set of requirements each state had set for residents to obtain an official government issued ID.

To correct the matter, the federal government issued standard guidelines for all 50 states, including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, to ensure consistency across the nation.

To upgrade a Pennsylvania ID card or driver’s license to an official REAL ID heading into 2020 requires that individuals provide the following:

• A valid birth certificate,

• A Social Security Card (non-laminated),

• Proof of all legal name changes (marriage certificate or court order issued by your county’s family court),

• Two forms of proof of address (utility bill & bank statements) with scan capability.

A new license will cost $60.50 — in comparison to the previous PennDOT renewal fee of $30.50 — as it’s reported to include  a one-time REAL ID fee of $30.50.

Additionally, REAL IDs are set to last four years,  plus  any remaining time on your previous license. After the one-time initial $30 upgrade fee, the price of renewal every four years will drop back to the usual $30.50.

States that don’t comply will forfeit their right to have their ID cards recognized as Federal ID’s which means that those drivers licenses will not be recognized by Homeland Security, preventing folks from boarding airplanes, entering military facilities, or visiting Federal Buildings requiring ID. REAL ID modern technology includes facial recognition software utilizing each DMV photo to ensure credibility, the sharing of criminal and driving records with all 50 states, and gold star branding that identifies all ID holders as American citizens, according to Homeland Security.

To date, some states have continued issuing legal ID’s to non-American citizens as long as applicants have a birth certificate and proof of address. Someone with a previously issued state ID card or driver’s license can still enjoy the driving benefits, but won’t be permitted to board an airplane.

The reason Pennsylvania is up against a deadline is that the General Assembly pushed back by passing a law in 2011 that prohibited Pennsylvania from complying with the federal standard.

The language of the approved bill hinted at what may have been an objection with the federal law by allowing the governor or attorney general to challenge the constitutionality or legality of the Real ID Act.

This spring, PennDOT plans to raise awareness about the REAL ID through social media and marketing campaigns, as well as by sending mailers to driver’s license holders.

“We’re still on track to begin issuing in March,” said Kurt Myers, deputy secretary for driver and vehicle services at PennDOT, in an official email.  “There are a lot of moving parts, but I feel comfortable that things will be in place by March.”

PennDOT began prequalifying Pennsylvanians for Real ID’s last September. State residents may bring their REAL ID required documents into any PennDOT driver license center for pre-verification and file storage.

Once documents are filed at the department and REAL IDs are available in March, customers can apply online, pay the one-time fee, and their REAL ID product will be mailed to them within 7-10 days; or they can visit one of up to 13 REAL ID centers and receive their REAL ID product over the counter at the time of service.

There’s a slight bonus for some residents  who received their first PA driver’s license or ID card after September 2003 because the agency may already have documents on file.

PennDOT estimates roughly 3.5 million Pennsylvanians have existing documents on file, yet they encourage everyone to do an online check to verify document validity. Once verification is complete, residents can fill out the online PennDOT form to ensure their records are marked “verified status” to enjoy the fortune of applying for and receiving their REAL ID via U.S. postal mail.

Those without verified documents will have to take their documents to a driver’s license center in person. PennDOT suggests that residents with valid passports wait a few months before getting a Real ID so those without passports can be first in line.

Pennsylvanians can call PennDOT at 717-412-5300 or check the PennDOT website starting in March to verify if the department has documents stored on file.

An official statement released by PennDOT reads: “Our staff manually checks customers’ records document by document, which has created a backlog in processing the thousands of applications the department has received.

The department is applicants to be patient.” For more info visit default.aspx

Contact Victoria Lavelle at

The Department of Homeland Security provides this diagram to help address false rumors regarding new REAL ID’s. Graphic courtesy of PennDOT

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Pennsylvania’s tuition-free college proposal meets resistance

by Victoria Lavelle


College students rally for debt-free college. Photo by Clem Murray/TN

Pennsylvania’s young adults continue shouldering most of the expense while accumulating insurmountable debt to attend community colleges and public universities, so state legislators universities, so state legislators started exploring new ways to make college more affordable statewide in 2018.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, (D-Philadelphia) and Pennsylvania State Rep. James Roebuck, (D-Philadelphia) introduced bills to the state’s General Assembly in Harrisburg last June — while leaders in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education voted in July to increase tuition for in-state students by 3 percent.

Dubbed the “Pennsylvania Promise,” Hughes and Roebucks the proposed legislation’s sets to expand access and affordability to area community colleges and state-owned and state-related universities by reducing student debt and assisting low and middle-income families with paying for higher education.

Pointing to research estimating 63 percent of new job opportunities in the state will require a college education by the year 2020, Hughes emphasizes that currently less than 38 percent of Pennsylvanians are eligible applicants with the qualified education to fill those jobs.

“There is a pressing need for reinvestment in postsecondary education and job-skill training a large body of economic research reflects that slacking educational attainment translates to lower wages and incomes for individuals and slower economic growth for regions,” Hughes states on his official website. “The Pennsylvania Promise has the potential to transform people’s lives, enrich entire communities and strengthen the state’s foundation bustling with productivity, opportunity, with a prosperous economy. The nations race for raising incomes and increasing opportunity hinges critically on access to post-secondary education and training. If Pennsylvania does not expand access to higher education to more of its citizens, the Commonwealth’s economy will suffer and living standards will fall behind growth elsewhere.”

According to college rankings by U.S. News and World Report, Pennsylvania ranks 47th on post-graduation debt, 48th for costly tuition and fees, and dead last with a 50th ranking for higher education. Currently, per capita funding for higher education in Pennsylvania ranks 47th in the nation.

The increase in state spending required under the Pennsylvania Promise Bill would raise Pennsylvania’s rank to 36th, according to data collected by the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in June 2017.

The Pennsylvania Plan aims to cover two years of college tuition and fees for recent high school graduates and adults seeking in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials by attending one of the state’s 14 community colleges.

Furthermore, it would also cover four years of tuition and fees at a state-owned or state-related university for students with a family income of $110,000 or less per year. Students whose family income is $48,000 or less would also be eligible for assistance with costs associated with student housing.

Based on studies conducted by the Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, the proposed plan would be administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), according to a sponsorship memo drafted by the minority chair of the state House Education Committee, James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia).

With a modest and smart investment, the Keystone Research Center predicts that Pennsylvania can build a more prosperous future for its citizens and reinvigorate the American Dream in every corner of the state.

On the flip side, there are reasons for concern regarding tuition-free college according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSC), including poor academic track record of community college attendees, the possible bleak economic growth implications from financing so-called free college, and also issues stemming around fairness.

That, in turn, contributes to the fact that more than a third of students who start college still haven’t earned degrees after six years, the NSC reports, often piling up loan debt with no payoff.

Recent data reflects that 47 percent of community college enrollees drop out of school, while only 27 percent graduated, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

“The idea of tuition-free college in Pennsylvania sounds like a noble cause, yet there are also a few realities to consider,” DCCC communication of arts major Jerome Jenkins said. “The undeniable truth is that nothing in life is really free. Though a select group of folks may benefit from tuitionfree college, it’s important to remember that someone, somewhere else will be footing the bill in order to provide free college opportunities.”

As of January 2019, the Pennsylvania Promise bill currently has 23 cosponsors that consists of 22 Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Thomas Murt, (R-Hatboro), and it is presently awaiting consideration in the House Education Committee.

Contact Victoria Lavelle at

College at a discount?

DCCC student hula hoops in Old Hollywood Glam Cirque

By Alexis Marshall


Autumn Cornell, a studio arts major at DCCC, poses in vaudeville costume back stage at Tellus360, following her solo performance for The Circus School of Lancaster showcase. Photo by Alexis Marshall

The backstage area of Tellus360 bar is buzzing as the performers prepare. Wherever you look, people are putting on makeup or fixing their costumes.

A performer sits on the steps to the stage, strapping stilts to her legs. Another complains to her friend about leaving a prop back in her car.

Among the waiting performers is Autumn Cornell, a 25-year-old DCCC studio arts major dressed in a red leotard, black chiffon skirt and black tights; a bowler hat sits upon her head.

“Kind of going for a vaudeville look,” Cornell says, referring to a popular type of entertainment in the early 20th Century.

Cornell was one of several performers participating in the Old Hollywood Glam Cirque Variety Show at the Circus School of Lancaster and Tellus 360 Jan. 22.

Cornell stands next to her props, a peacock feather fan, a black and white pointed umbrella, and a set of four blue hula hoops. She shares that she will be in two performances this evening. One group performance, and one solo act.

“I’m really excited,” she says. “The show is about to begin!” Cornell’s opening act was joined by two performers, Pixie Flowess and Sheena, both 28-year-old Lancaster locals, who performed acrobatics featuring umbrellas set to the “Moulin Rouge” version of “Roxanne.” Cornell’s solo performance was a hula-hoop acrobatic dance, set to a remix of Disney Aladdin’s song “Never Had a Friend Like Me.”

The hulahoop performance featured tricks where she spun the hoops around her wrists, ankles, thighs and around the outside of her body. She steadily added more and more hoops as her performance continued.

“I was surprised,” said Laura Mae, a co-owner of MaeJean Vintage, an antique and vintage jewelry shop in Lancaster. “It was very entertaining.”

The Ladybirds, a dance group from York, Pa, performed three acts. Tina Watkins, 27, performed partner burlesqueacrobatics with Sheena. Anika Alegra, 28, also performed a burlesque act featuring a hula hoop.

“Look at them go,” said Dahlia Jean, a business partner to Laura Mae. “These girls are lovely.”

The Master of Ceremonies was Evan Young, a street performer with 15 years of experience in the field of circus acts.

Between each act, Young shared an old Hollywood glam fun-fact, while performing a trick. One trick involved standing on a balance board while transitioning two hula-hoops across his body in opposite directions, simultaneously.

“Fun fact: Joseph Stalin tried to have John Wayne assassinated because Wayne was openly against communism,” Young said, while balancing a skateboard on his forehead.

The final performance of the evening was a contortion and aerial hoop act, performed by Kiki Konfelli a 38-year-old former gymnast from Maine. She has performed since her childhood.

The night ended with an open floor dance party.

Guests, who were encouraged to come in era-appropriate clothing, were enticed to dance to vaudeville style music.

“We love everything vintage, so this is fantastic,” said Amanda Jean, Dahlia Jean’s sister and co-owner of MaeJean Vintage.

The Circus School of Lancaster will be hosting three more showcases over the course of the next three months. The showcases will be the fourth Tuesday of every month and will feature a different theme each time.

Contact Alexis Marshall at

‘Quest:’ A portrait of an American family


‘Quest:’ A portrait of an American family

By Dominique Smack Tillman

Growing up at the intersection of 32nd and Norris streets was anything but ordinary. My neighborhood streets were usually crowded with block parties, loud music, and kids.

These streets were the same blocks where I heard the ringing of shots and mothers crying as gun violence claimed the lives of innocent youth. It was anything but the typical American story, but it was what I identified as home.

I suppose that’s why the film documentary “Quest” moved me in a way that I hadn’t expected. After watching this documentary on Jan. 27 at The Media Fellowship House, I was overcome with strong emotions as I absorbed the story of the Rainey family’s journey dealing with healing, hope, love and music.

Film director, Jonathan Olshefski, said the film took nearly a decade to cultivate. Olshefski tells intimate stories that honor the complexity of his subjects by employing a production process that emphasizes collaboration, dialogue, and relationship.

This unique way of storytelling is used to amplify their voices and reflect their points of view in an artful way. Olshefski does a great job capturing the intense and real time story of the Rainey family, and it helped me to form a greater appreciation for the neighborhood I always called home.

In short, I felt like I was a part of this family’s story. The film begins with a glimpse of the nuptials of Chris and Christina Rainey and then moves into the life that the two have built with one another.

As the storyline unfolds, other characters are introduced with their own personal stories to tell.

A look into the everyday life of Christina Rainey, referred to in the film as Ma Rainey, shows her rising as the matriarch of the family.

In addition to her characteristics of strength and resilience, the film also captures the strong personalities of other characters, such as Christopher “Quest”

Rainey’s hopefulness and compassion in challenging situations, or Patricia Rainey who had to rise up from her circumstances and bring normalcy back into her teenage life.

The film does an excellent job showing the struggles of a typical mother in the North Philadelphia neighborhood fighting for refuge in a modernday war zone.

As the story unfolds, tragedy strikes the family in several ways when Ma Rainey’s oldest son, William, a single parent, is diagnosed with cancer while trying to balance the everyday life of raising his son.

The film demonstrates how the Rainey family rises up to face challenges and problems in a community where divorce is prevalent and single-parent homes are far too common.

After the film introduces Patricia Rainey, the youngest child of Chris and Ma Rainey, the film transitions to tell the narrative from the child’s eyes.

The bond between Chris and PJ through music and basketball could be vividly felt through the visual interpretation of the documentary: the short walks to the bus stop, the intimate conversations, and the love between the two all strongly represent the beauty of father- daughter relationships. When PJ Rainey is struck by a stray bullet while playing basketball at a local playground, the film takes on a dimmer tone. “Daddy, I’m sorry for getting shot,” PJ said.

This powerful statement caused sympathy and remorse to fall over the audience. The unfortunate incident displays how the Rainey family deals with such a tragedy in a community where little is being done about the widespread gun violence.

However, it doesn’t prevent the outpouring of love and support from the community as they collectively fight to make the streets a safer place.

Throughout the nearly twohour documentary, the effects of music in the community are astounding as the film takes a more light-hearted tone.

“Quest” reveals how the Rainey family fills empty voids and the need for unity by building a personal recording studio in the family’s basement. The way the music’s rigid beats and raw lyrics moves through those basement walls brought back vivid memories of how I personally used music to escape from the outside world some days.

The film shows how Quest Studios provides local rappers and songwriters a safe haven to come together to get away from the violence and drugs to make music.

The studio is a space to create original music and content while fighting against becoming another street statistic. Local rappers Price, Ron Geez, and Harry, are among the individuals that found an escape from North Philly streets in Quest Studios.

Today, you can find the Quest family continuously hosting their Freestyle Friday rap battles in Quest Studios every first Friday of the month. As for PJ, she has adjusted miraculously and has a heavy hand in music producing beats with her father and following the family’s tradition for the love of music.

In a Live Q&A immediately following the screening, Olshefski, PJ, and Christopher Rainey stood and answered questions about how the family dealt with the different experiences that played into compiling this intimate and raw story.

Olshefski discussed the bond that was developed between himself and the Rainey family over the decade long process and how his different skills and styles played into showing the family’s very intimate story.

“Quest” was shot in a unique cinematic style that is ideal for documentary style filmmaking and stresses unbiased realism. This style of shooting helped to bring a rawness to the screen that was welcomed by the audience as evidenced by moments of shared laughter and sinister silences.

Moreover, I greatly related to this story because it was an intimate journey that hit so close to home. Familiar settings, feelings, and emotions arose on the screen and festered inside of me as I took in this powerful and intimate portrait of one American family’s journey.

Needless to say, “Quest” does a brilliant job shedding light on the everyday American story of love, life and music.

The Media Fellowship House, located on Jackson Street in Media, hosts a variety of events. “Quest” was just one of many Sundance Film Festival and independent film documentaries shown at this location. Upcoming events can be found at
Contact Dominique Smack at communitarian@mail.dccc.