Speech to the Congressional Black Caucus

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today. It is an honor.

My name is Azeem Hill, and I am a member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, a part of the West Philadelphia High School Automotive Academy. This is a wonderful after school program that I have been a part of since freshman year. I am now a junior and have been involved with the West Philly Hybrid X team for three years now. I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Student Union which complements my involvement with the team because both organizations work towards building a solid educational portfolio.

Every Tuesday, I meet with Simon Hauger and Ann Cohen, directors of West Philly Hybrid. Awaiting us are exciting projects and announcements that most recently connect with our entry into the Progressive Automotive X Prize, an international competition to build cars that achieve 100 MPG.

We are the only high school competing in this world, in this world, for this multi-million dollar automotive competition for the green economy. We are competing against startup companies that have more money in their pockets than we do collectively. Our participation is no surprise to me because we are using an educational model that prompts and highlights every student’s unique strengths. This is called project-based-learning.

Years before I joined the team, this all started out as a science project that became cross circular within days.

I got my introduction to the team working with the K-1 Attack where we put a fierce hybrid engine in the body of a sports car. Being at West has its challenges and my classmates have complicated personal backgrounds, but being on this team ignores all of this and pulls together all of our strengths. That is the reason why the K-1 Attack even exists, because one of our former team members said, “Hey Hauger, these hybrid cars are decent, but why are they so ugly lookin’?” Eventually the world’s first hybrid supercar was born out of our garage in West Philly.

We won the Tour De Sol, the nation’s oldest alternative fuel vehicle competition, with our K-1 Attack. The K-1 has a carbon fiber body that is superlight but tough as steel. It goes from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and it even gets over 60 miles to the gallon on bio-diesel. We were able to beat schools like MIT and Toyota and Honda entries because of our knowledge of hybrid technology and our understanding of consumer needs and wants. For us, this was just a precursor for all that we have waiting for us, especially with our participation in the X Prize competition. For the current team members, the K-1 was our first love, it was our first hope. It was a stepping stone to the X Prize.

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is a $10 million international competition to build clean, super efficient vehicles intended for mass production. The X Prize foundation’s mission is to spur innovation through competition. Our mission is to win. When we win we will secure a place in the green economy for young urban people. But we’ll have more than jobs. Winning will show how young people have historically changed this country for the better. We have power. We’ve changed policy and now we’ll change industry.

Our two cars entries in the competition, the Ford Focus and Factory Five GT, will achieve over 100 MPG, emit less than 200 grams of carbon per mile into the air, and go from zero to 60 in under eight seconds. The mission of the X-Prize foundation is to benefit humanity and stem the effects of climate change through big competition. There were over 100 teams that entered in this $10 million contest. We know that after preliminary cuts, far less will remain. We are one of them. Five teams are invited to attend the launch party of the X Prize competition on October 19 in New York City. We are one of them.

We have an amazing and effective business plan to bring our cars to production in Philadelphia. Continuing education and use of green materials is the thesis for our marketing plan. People are talking about us. I guarantee you by the end of my speech, you will be talking about us, too.

Last year, the West Philly Hybrid X Team was rated number 10 in Popular Mechanics Magazine as being one of the teams that will most likely take home the big pot of cash in the competition. Since then we’ve gotten heaps of press. The team was in Natural History magazine, Rolling Stone, and American Way magazine. The team was featured by local news outlets dozens of times. Even after EPA Lisa Jackson visited our school, she felt it necessary to mention our accomplishments to high school students in North Carolina when she was there visiting. We even have a documentary being made about us. The documentary will focus more on the students’ lives than the hybrid cars.

The press and media coverage is amazing and sincerely appreciated, but none of that compares to the critical thinking and humanistic skills my peers and I are constantly learning.

This past summer the West Philly Hybrid X Team learned about the green economy and how to market an environmentally friendly car. We made podcasts to support our findings. We even made a mock party flyer to promote our cars. It was a blast. You can view this content on our website at evxteam.org

It’s been three years of studying , writing ,debating , and headaches and I am proud to say I’ve been involved with the X Prize from the very beginning. Now that I look back on my experiences, this thought comes to mind: If you were to go back in time and ask me three years ago when I was a freshman what I was doing with the team I would say “We are just building hybrid cars.” There wasn’t much depth to my understanding of hybrids or the green economy or even why we picked the batteries we picked. That was probably all I could tell you. Now after learning about the cars from my fellow teammates, doing work on the cars, and participating in a 15 page research document on electric vehicles, I internalized our mission from having amazing real life experiences with the team.

I was eager and excited to seek out new challenges. I liked the Philadelphia Student Union before I liked the team, but I learned both missions are intertwined and are solely about the progression of a student. They both help create students who can become part of the new global economy.

There is a missing link for whatever reason in the classroom about preparing myself for this so called global economy. Our districts are underfunded, and fifty percent of our freshmen drop out before they reach sophomore and junior year. Before I joined the student union I thought that it was okay for people to drop out if they don’t want to learn. But students are dropping out because their unique ways of thinking, working, and expressions are not being stimulated. They care about their education but even before they open a book, they are already failing.

With the team and with PSU, I never felt like a failure. I felt challenged and pushed, but both groups allow me to work my best and open my mind to the bigger picture.

This learning process was not a walk in the park. The EVX Team and the Philadelphia student union both believe that all young people can be leaders of tomorrow and sometimes that’s a lot of responsibility. Sometimes I am responsible for teaching another young person how something works. Sometimes I have to convince another young person that personal life and personal drama needs to be left behind for the welfare of the group’s progression. Sometimes I even have to let someone know that this is not like school when you can just not do something and get a bad grade. This is real life and you are making a real impact on the world and you are accountable for all of you actions and assignments you take upon yourself. Every step you decide to miss is an opportunity you’ve wasted not only for the team, but for yourself. I don’t want to miss any opportunities.

I know that you don’t want to miss any opportunities either. The opportunity awaiting you is the purchase of a brand new super cool, super efficient, created by students, built in Philadelphia 100 MPG car. When we win seize your opportunity and buy our car.

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