When Terrill Haigler became part of the Philadelphia Sanitation Department, his role as an essential worker and the tough jobs executed in the name of the public good became his mission.
What does it mean to service the community, to keep it clean? And what could be done by Philadelphians to aid in the clean-up?
To that end, Haigler became “Ya Fav Trashman” with a smartly-done Instagram page (@_yafavtrashman) that gave Philly insight to what sanitation workers experience, along with creating a Custom Ink t-shirt fundraiser to purchase PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies for his crew.
A star was born, one who pushed Philadelphians to not only learn about the people behind sanitation, but to become involved with public clean-ups, picking up over 300-tons of trash over the last two years as founder of the nonprofit Trash 2 Treasure. With a hauling company of his own, too, Haigler seeks to employ Philly’s young adults and keep the city clean.
Haigler has also penned his first children’s book, ‘I’m Cool Too’, based upon a conversation he had with his own children about his job and how he does it.
Haigler is using ‘I’m Cool Too’ to raise money for public schools, with $5 from each sale donated to the School District of Philadelphia. Haigler’s goal? To donate $1 million to Philly schools, dropping off checks to principles to use the funds as they see fit.
Metro recently spoke to Haigler about trash, cash, community and the art of ‘Cool’.
What were the incentives for creating ‘YaFavTrashman’ in the first place, and how have those reasons morphed?
There were two things that made me start. The first was having a gun pulled out on me along my route. The second was seeing the frustration of residents, every-single-day, as to what was happening with their trash. I was looking for a way to communicate what was going on with us to Philadelphia-at-large. Doing something free that shed a light on what it’s like to be a sanitation worker everyday was the key to getting people to understand just how hard we’re working.
Do you have a background in writing, photography or communication?
I don’t have a writing background, but I do have a theater background. I am a trained dancer, and have done ballet, jazz, hip hop, modern, West African, tap and salsa since the age of 8. I graduated from Creative and Performing Arts High. I was always the guy who spoke out, advocating for the arts because the arts changed my life. When it came to advocating for sanitation workers and trash, I was used to it.
How do you make your site’s renown and your advocacy work in tandem?
It’s still weird that people recognize me when I’m working or walking with my kids. I embrace it, because Covid stripped us of that embrace, community. We all became introverts. So when people stop me, I take that moment to get to know them. You never know how important that meeting can be – to them, to me. One of the goals of my clean-ups is to re-create community, where it’s not weird to talk to, or greet, people you don’t know. Now, complete strangers come together for a common cause — cleaning Philly — and gain so much more.
Wanting to create a children’s book: what led up to that, specifically?
Everything that I have experienced, just meeting people, talking with my own children about the importance of community, the importance of getting to know what is behind the jobs that people do, daily, along with issues of recycling and waste reduction. When I had those conversations, I witnessed lightbulbs going off above my children’s heads. My children became trash ambassadors. Everywhere we go they want to see it clean, so they deal with it, and want to know all they can do to fix it. Now, imagine the grown-ups that they will become with this striving for community and keeping things clean. If it works for my children, it can work for children around the world. That’s how we push forward and redefine the normal. There’s a new respect for sanitation workers, now. There’s a new perspective. And with new perspective comes new ideas and change – and all that starts with children. That’s the circle I have in my head.
And the goal of donating $1 million to Philly’s schools?
I grew up in the Philly school system. My children started in the Philly school system, and it’s no secret how bad that system is. And it’s no secret how much change is needed to make it better. If I have that platform and the wherewithal to help that change along, I should be doing anything and everything to make that happen – be better – as soon as possible. You can’t talk about change with talking about education, food insecurity and homeless. All of these things are married together. You can’t solve just one problem. So while I’m advocating for clean streets and community, I have to advocate for creating positive environments in school. We can’t have schools with brown water and asbestos. How can you expect our children to be straight A students in these conditions? So let’s change those conditions.
To learn more about Terrill Haigler, visit yafavtrashman.com