Officials this week held a ribbon cutting, opening a new $38.8 million, 100-unit housing development in Southwest Philadelphia — hailing the new Paschall Village as the key to revitalizing the neighborhood.
“This is not about bricks and mortar; it’s about souls and lives,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams, at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting.
The new homes, built by the Philadelphia Housing Authority between Paschall and Woodland Avenue at 72nd Street, boast a number of green and sustainable features including: geothermal heating and cooling, solar hot water, solar panels, a rainwater irrigation system and ENERGY STAR appliances.
But, Williams and the other speakers hailed the development not so much for its architecture, cutting edge technology or amenities — but for its power to transform the surrounding neighborhood of Southwest Philly. The new village replaced a barracks-like slab of a housing project, built in 1966, that was renowned as a hub of crime until it was demolished in 2009.
“It was an antiquated, drug- and crime-infested area,” remembered Council president Anna C. Verna, who represents the Southwest, adding that the old 223-unit project riddled with courtyards and narrow alleys made a perfect hideout for criminals — and particularly dangerous for police.
In the months before the old complex was torn down, between January and April 2009, police said there were 11 murders and 15 rapes within a half-mile of the complex. It was so notorious for drug activity that in 2006 federal agents descended on the complex and arrested 22 people.
There was no evidence of that history this week.
The new houses are laid out in several neat rows and a new street, an extension of Saybrook Avenue, divided the block. At the corner of 72nd and Paschall, a new 4,000 square-foot community center, complete with computer center, anchored the village. New street lights and trees lined the streets.
Verna hoped the new homes will provide the catalyst for change.
“I see today as a great opportunity,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
Williams, who lives just a few miles from the development, had even stronger words for new residents, and exhorted his new neighbors to resist letting the development again become a safe harbor for drugs and crime.
“We have a beginning here. I want us — the people, the neighbors — to reclaim our dignity, our humanity, our compassion,” he said, adding that new residents needed to tell anyone inclined to push the neighborhood backwards: “You’re not bringing that drama back to my neighborhood.”
The new complex has 12 one-bedroom, 52 two-bedroom and 36 three-bedroom units and 20 handicapped accessible units. All have off-street parking.
“The housing authority has come through again,” said resident liaison Nellie Reynolds. “But, you have to make it a home. We can’t do that for you. Do it with pride. Do it with love.”
The development has already won the 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania Award — and PHA director Michael Kelly expects it to win more.
“It is a shining example of PHA’s commitment to building green, energy-efficient, sustainable developments,” Kelly said. “We intend to be a leader and set an example in this field.”
Last month, PHA opened another green development, Mantua Court, in West Philadelphia. The $28.1 million, 101-unit public housing development replaced Mantua Hall, a notorious 18-story tower at 35th Street and Fairmount Avenue.
Calling Louis Bolling a tennis aficionado falls short of capturing his passion, worldly travels and life experiences in the tennis community.
Bolling has worked and trained with distinguished local and overseas tennis legends during his youth, collegiate days and professional career.
Today, Bolling is the Assistant Varsity Tennis Coach for Haverford College Women’s Tennis Team for the 2011–2012 season. In his new position, Bolling continues to embrace cultural diversity and inspire the student-athletes to advance in their academic and athletic pursuits.
“His education, upbringing and vast experiences equip Louis with a unique ability in dealing with the social, economic and cultural differences on the team,” said head coach Ann Koger. Koger and the team credit Bolling with being an accomplished coach whose greatest strength is his passion for learning and teaching. “Because he takes the time to know us and our different styles of play, Coach Louis is able to motivate and connect with the team,” said sophomore and team captain Alexandra Ferrara.
In the short time that Bolling has worked with the team, many of the students share similar observations regarding his ability to teach effectively.
“Coach Louis engages and encourages us to speak openly so we bond on and off the court,” said Celia Tong. “This has allowed us to play as a more cohesive unit.”
Many who know Bolling agree that this was a great move for Haverford.
“Louis will be an asset to the program. He is very caring and an advocate for promoting and teaching the sport of tennis,” said Black Tennis Foundation of Philadelphia President Bernard Chavis.
“Working with the women’s tennis team is a great opportunity for me because I get to work with a legend like Ms. Koger at a highly ranked liberal arts college,” Bolling said. “Through sports and education, Ms. Koger and I are contributing to the development of tomorrow’s global citizens and leaders.
“This position allows me enhance the student-athlete experience for our players, as Haverford offers study abroad programs and global partnerships with many of the countries embodied on the team,” he added.
Each person brings a unique experience and culture to the team, representing a diverse international footprint. This is includes, but not limited to, Chinese, Nigerian and Peruvian heritage.
“We share a love for tennis and this has allowed us to embrace our distinct and parallel backgrounds,” said first-year student Kristen Anderson.
Born in West Philadelphia, Bolling spent a significant amount of time in the Cobbs Creek area building lasting friendships and socializing with his community. “I interacted with many multiethnic individuals at a very early age,” Bolling said.
His desire to see the world and embrace diversity led Bolling to his first international tennis tournament in Morocco at the age of 14. Shortly after graduating from Morgan State University, Bolling landed a position working with youth and tennis development programs overseas in Johannesburg.
“I am fortunate to work with Ms. Koger and really believe that good communication crosses all barriers,” he said. “Her experience and prowess in the national tennis community, along with 30 years of service at Haverford, is an inspiration to me and the team.”
With chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases taking a disproportionate toll on African Americans, those living in West and Southwest Philadelphia without health insurance or unable to acquire medical care, are encouraged to attend a local health center rather than avoid medical examinations altogether.
The Woodland Ave. Health Annex is a state of the art medical facility located in the shopping plaza at the 6100 block of Woodland Ave. in Southwest Philadelphia.
While health related medical problems typically affect African Americans in higher proportions than other members of the American population, Black males are said to be least likely to seek preventive medical attention.
Michael Rhoades of the Health Annex would like to attract Black men who otherwise are likely to only seek medical assistance after being afflicted with a medical problem which, in some cases, might have been prevented had they received more frequent medical exams.
“I recruit men into primary care or try to encourage them to, at the very least get a physical,” said Rhoades who speaks extensively at community meetings and other forums to raise awareness about Black health issues.
“We [the Health Annex] a variety of services ranging from primary care, behavioral health, dental, there’s a pharmacy on site in which you don’t pay more than four dollars co-pay for any medication.”
Social workers, eye doctors, foot specialists and other medical experts serving diverse needs, are also offered at the clinic for those who cannot afford treatment otherwise.
“It’s a one-stop shop here at the Health Annex and I’ll say this — insurance is not an issue,” Rhoades said. “If you are insured, that’s a wonderful thing; if you’re not insured you’re still in the same place as if you are insured.”
Rhoades noted the center not only provides physiological, social and psychological support and assistance, but that they are available to the community to “utilize in any form or fashion” related to health or anything else going on in their lives.
A sliding scale fee is used to assess billing for those who utilize the facility and receive some form of income but cannot afford to pay for individual insurance. Pay stubs are used to assess fees for those who are employed and in this way patients are billed according to what they earn.
“It’s a no-turn-away policy here at the Annex,” Rhoades said.
While the center has existed for some 10 years, it has only been at the 6100 Woodland Ave. location for two of those years.
Originally it operated at 58th and Kingsessing at a smaller facility. Rhoades explained that through the acquisition of grants, the health center was able to expand until finally it was able to occupy the larger site where it currently provides service to the community.
“A very special person really helped this place and is really the backbone and the reason for it being in the position that is now, and that person is Lorraine Thomas,” Rhoades said. “Without her it wouldn’t be here.”
Thomas, who is no longer an employee of the center, was unavailable for comment at press time.
“We have a wonderful environment here,” Rhoades said. “And most [of the staff] are very caring and have a genuine concern for people.”
If interested in more information about the Health Annex or to make an appointment, call (215) 727-4721.
Walter D. Palmer Leadership Preparatory Academy received regional recognition this summer when chess victor Vanita Young was awarded a $40,000 scholarship to Texas Technical University.
Young’s teammates regard her journey as a symbol that chess is a growing extracurricular mental sport that can offer significant reward. To coach Douglas Cox of West Philadelphia, Young’s accomplishment is more than a chess victory.
Hired to provide academic support to students, Cox organized Palmer’s Dark Knights chess club in 2009. It was an easy decision for Cox simply because one chess-savvy student voiced a desire to play chess with his peers.
“Chess has never been about my ego because I realized in the early stages of forming the club that I was not the most gifted player,” Cox said.
Surrounded by highly skilled students, Cox partnered with David Miller, who provides tactical and strategic instruction to the team. This winning combination has allowed the Dark Knights to excel in chess and academics.
Engaging Miller has allowed Cox to wear many hats including motivator, project manager, fundraiser and academic advisor to the team.
During a recent summer practice, several of the students discussed SAT preparatory courses, college essays and various academic support aides for smartphones. It was clear that the team places a high priority on scholastic aptitude as well.
Although Young has been awarded a college scholarship based on her chess aptitude, she aims to score 1200 or higher on her SAT examination.
“I grew up playing chess for fun,” Cox said. “Now I enjoy the time I am able to play and improve my game. As a coach I am able to expose the students to different cultures, people and experiences.”
When asked if it was important to win, coaches and students alike felt that true learning occurs not in the victories, but in the defeat. “Winning is not everything. Because when I lose, I also learn,” said Mingo Johnson, who practices with the Dark Knights but plays on a competing team.
Like Cox, several of the members grew up watching their father and uncles play chess.
“I have been playing since I was in the 5th grade,” Johnson said. “My dad taught me how to play and I continue to learn by practicing, competing and studying strategy.”
Cox provides a diverse learning environment where students are able to play and learn with peers from Palmer and other area schools. In addition, the students are able to practice against other chess enthusiasts as young as five.
Palmer’s Dark Knights has put together one of the best academic chess teams not only in Philadelphia, but around the country. Almost three years later, Cox’s team boast local and national recognition as his team recently competed in a national competition, placing 21st in the country. “We promote young people to follow their dreams in chess and life,” said Cox. “We strive for excellence on and off the board.”
For more information on the Dark Knights chess club, visit www.darkknightschess.weebly.com.
Hundreds filled the streets of South Philadelphia to attend the annual community appreciation day event hosted by state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, whose district covers the south and southwest Philadelphia area.
“This is one of my favorite events throughout my legislative year,” Johnson said. “It’s an opportunity for family, friends, children and the community to come together for a day filled with food, fun and entertainment.”
While adults had an opportunity to meet and greet local legislators, community activists as well as fellowship with one another in a safe environment, children were able to play on the moon bounce and enjoy the other recreational activities provided for their entertainment as well.
“It’s always great when you can have the community come out in a day filled with fun, entertainment, free food and, most importantly unity,” Johnson said. “For me, that’s what it is all about: unifying the community and making sure our children and the community are having a good time.”
Johnson believes providing such opportunities to of live and to allow residents to enjoy themselves and get to know one another, could help to relieve some of these burdens and hardships.
“We know we are having tough economic times right now but I have made it a priority to focus on public-private partnerships to make sure that we have resources so our children, our families and our seniors can have a good time in our communities,” Johnson said.
Asked about his demanding schedule and his reputation for staying involved and active in both South and Southwest Philadelphia while being required to spend three days a week in Harrisburg, Johnson chalks it up to his love for what he does.
“This is a 24/7 job but I love my job and so for me getting up and serving the people everyday is easy because I love what I do,” he said. “When you love what you do you get a sense of joy and power based on your work and I enjoy it.”
Asked about his future plans, Johnson, who won the highly contested Democratic primary for City Council’s 1st District seat, noted his title might change once seated on the council but his mission will remain the same.
“For me, whether I am serving them in Harrisburg or in the city, at the end of the day, for me, it’s about serving the people and I enjoy doing it,” he said.
Several speakers were present at the event discussing community issues.
Jordan Harris, of the city’s Youth Commission, state rep. Ronald G. Waters and Bill Rubin, candidate for 10th district city council, took opportunities to address the crowd.
“It is communities like this that is going to bring back the neighborhoods that we once had,” Harris said. “What we have witnessed this summer is the deterioration of neighborhoods and it takes people like those gathered here today to not only enjoy themselves but to spend time with their communities that will bring back us back.”
The Black Male Engagement Challenge, BME, pronounced “be me,” met at the Southwest Community Advisory Group.
It’s a group whose membership consist of representatives from local organizations, to explain the mission of saving the Black male campaign as well as to record the stories of nominees.
“This is a pilot project starting in Philadelphia and Detroit which identifies Black men who are civically engaged,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, program director of the Knights Foundation.
While much of today’s crimes are committed by Black men, especially youth, Greenwood noted many noteworthy and positive things are done by Black males, which are not given attention in the media.
“At the foundation, we support a lot of work around positive ways to engage people,” she said. “As we started to think about ways we can support African-American males as a segment of the population, we noted that there is a misconception that they are not civically engaged.”
Telling the stories of real, everyday Black men would help to dispel this misconception as well as to help reinforce the positive things done by Black males and to help connect community members with one another.
“One of the things we are learning is that pre-civil rights brothers are not connected to post-civil rights Black males,” Greenwood said.
This generation gap has long been a topic of debate in the Black community.
BME community coordinator Wendell F. Dingle scours the city in search of the stories of positive Black males which appear on the foundations website.
“We thought that if we could collect these stories of Black men doing positive things in the community, than we could inspire others to follow in their footsteps,” Dingle said.
In an effort to collect these stories, Dingle often be seen crisscrossing the city attending meetings, community events and public forms, wherever it is convenient for nominees willing to enter the challenge and tell their stories.
Armed with his video camera, Dingle records their stories on the spot. Once collected, the stories are uploaded onto the BME website where the public can view and vote for those nominated there.
Dingle also noted that another significant benefit of the website, which now has nearly 400 such profiles, is that it gives you something to smile about.
“We know there are thousands [of black men] who are lifting up their communities and we want them to tell their stories,” said Greenwood, who said that anyone could go to their website and tell their own stories or give a thumbs to others who have done so.
The challenge is a three-fold process. Nominations for positive Black males will be held through Sept. 30.
In October, nominees will be invited to submit proposals for their community projects or activities which enhance their communities.
Winners can receive from $1,000 to $20,000.
“We’re looking for Black and brown men, Latino men and men from Africa and the Diaspora,” Greenwood said.
To receive more information about the BME Challenge, vote for a nominee or tell your own story, go to www.bmechallenge.org.
In response to the national challenges related to the academic achievement of Black and Latino males, the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS) held its annual conference at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, recently.
“Standing Strong: Reconnecting, Recreating and Reclaiming” was the theme for this year’s weekend event.
Of the 26 CHAS member liberal arts colleges, four schools are based in Pennsylvania. The conference appeared to have been an empowering, engaging and educational experience for students, staff and speakers alike.
According to Howard Jean, Grays Ferry resident and conference speaker, the conference was unique.
“The students are academically strong simply because they are attending prestigious schools such as Haverford College and Swarthmore College,” he said. “These students have a much larger burden of success because they are first generation college students.”
Jean believes students of color have a different legacy because they are not able to carry the torch passed on to them from prior generations.
“The majority of these students have to build, light and carry the torch — for self, families and communities,” Jean said.
As an educator, Jean feels that teaching students with English as second language can be challenging.
“When English is not used or reinforced in the home, principles taught in school only apply in an academic setting,” he said.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that African-American and Hispanic males comprise 6 percent and 8 percent respectively for first-time bachelor’s degree recipients based on 2009 data.
“Many of these students are hundreds of miles away from family and friends and this is tough for a freshman,” Jean said. “My goal was to motivate the students to find ways to stand out on campus, in the community and within their own demographic.
“Learn from your counterparts and embrace the differences,” he added. “Most importantly maintain self-respect. This conference has connected area schools where this diverse group of students can now continue to build with other students of similar upbringings.”
West Philadelphia native Louis Bolling attended as a conference student advisor for the Haverford students.
Bolling felt the conference was a good medium for students with common ethnic and academic experiences to network and collaborate.
“I would like to see the students engage with each other beyond the conference,” he said. “I encouraged the Haverford students to set their own vision and plan of action for the conference and beyond.”
West Philadelphia neighbors took advantage of some early spring cleaning, while those preparing for the arrival of a new baby or dealing with a child quickly outgrowing their clothes, found some much needed bargains.
St. Mary’s Nursery School recently hosted its second consignment fundraiser, “West Philly Grows Again.”
This was a great time for many families to clear out unwanted kids clothing, shop for needed clothing and earn money for St. Mary’s and their household.
The consignment sale received a fabulous rating from Elizabeth Campion. “It was a near perfect sale. Items were of great quality and well organized,” Campion said. “The volunteers were helpful at the sale and by carrying items to my car.”
Like many University City area residents, Champion enjoyed supporting an event that benefited her neighbors and a local daycare.
“For the participants, I imagine cleaning house while making a small profit and helping a terrific daycare made for a good time,” Champion said. “I was able to get three overstuffed bags of good, quality merchandise for around $50, and several individual items were worth more than the total paid.”
Jennifer Forbes-Nicotera wore many hats in preparation for this huge fundraising event. She served as a lead organizer, consignor and shopper. The Forbes-Nicotera household is proud to be a consigning family.
“My sons know when to let go of toys and books that they have outgrown or have gotten bored with,” she said. “They can put them up for sale, and they will go to other kids who will love them. As a primarily single-income household it is crucial to squeeze the budget any way we can.
“However, for our family it is more than just the clothing,” she added. “For us the real deals at consignment sales are gear like a Boppy pillow, baby sling or bouncy seat — those items you use for a short window of time, that do not wear out and can be resold when you are done with them.”
Like most shoppers, Forbes-Nicotera felt the consignment sale was a successful fundraising event. According to many volunteers, it was a success because it filled a need in the community it serves.
“Several of our consignors and many of our shoppers walked to the sale,” she said. “We are serving a community that is also waste-conscientious so we are offering a great alternative to yard sales.”
Word quickly spread throughout this West Philadelphia community. Last year there were 28 consignors in addition to the unsold items that were donated to the school for 100 percent profit. “This year we had 52 consignors and just under $2,500 in school proceeds,” she said.
The West Philly Grows Again Consignment Sale is rightly named.
“We are pleased by the increase and look forward to growing the sale each year,” Forbes-Nicotera said.
For more information, visit www.stmarysnursery.org or call (215) 386-0321.
Black scholar at UPenn looks at the positive and finds solutions
The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, a new center at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, has released its inaugural report, “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education: A Report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study.”
Shaun Harper, the center’s director and a professor at Penn GSE in West Philadelphia, examined Black male undergraduate students who did well and maximized their college experiences.
Harper studied how these students overcame hurdles that typically disadvantage their peers and amassed portfolios of experiences that made them competitive for internships, jobs and admission to highly selective graduate and professional schools.
Harper interviewed 219 Black male achievers at 42 public and private historically Black colleges and universities, liberal arts colleges, public and highly selective private research universities and comprehensive state universities in 20 states.
Rather than studying their success from a “deficit model,” Harper conducted his research based on an “anti-deficit achievement framework.” Instead of looking at what went wrong, Harper looked at what factors and institutional practices enabled the achievers to succeed.
The study examined topics like selecting a college, paying for college, making the transition to college, engagement while in college and responding productively to racism.
“Despite all that is stacked against them — low teacher expectations, insufficient academic preparation for college-level work, racist and culturally unresponsive campus environments — Black males still find ways to succeed. For nearly a decade, I’ve argued that those who are interested in Black male student success have much to learn from Black men who have actually been successful,” Harper said in the report.
“But, the most surprising finding was also the most disappointing finding — nearly every student we interviewed said it was the first time that someone had sat him down and asked how he had successfully navigated his way to and through higher education, what compelled him to be engaged and what he learned that could help improve achievement and engagement among Black male collegians.”
Harper noted the importance that family and parental influence had on the students.
For instance, the overwhelming majority of students always knew that they would attend college because of their parents and family members always talked about it. Study participants also remembered at least one influential teacher who helped to solidify interest in attending college at an early age.
Several achievers shared how their high school guidance counselors more often did more harm than good. As an example, participants indicated that their guidance counselors suggested that applying to elite private institutions was “pointless, because they stood no chance of being admitted,” or hinted that attending a historically Black college or university might disadvantage them in some way. Most of the counselors were white, Harper said.
In the study, Harper explored the role of structured mentoring and college transition programs, the value and critiques about historically Black fraternities, the students’ views of religion and spirituality, perspectives on masculinity and collegial and romantic relationships with Black women. He found that active engagement inside and outside the classroom specifically helps Black undergraduate men to stay on a successful path.
Harper makes several recommendations for improving Black male college student success, including equipping parents with knowledge about higher education, preparing K–12 and post-secondary professionals, connecting Black male teens to effective college preparatory experiences, removing financial barriers to college success, establishing successful transitional programs, addressing toxic racial climates on campus, creating venues for brotherly bonding and peer support and establishing affirming spaces for gay, bisexual and questioning students.
The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education unites scholars from schools of education and other academic departments who conduct research on race, racism, campus racial climates and topics pertaining to equity in education.
In an effort to help students develop their writing and reading skills, Mighty Writers a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, holds a daily after-school program to help students excel through school and prepare for success after school.
Executive Director Tim Whitaker was in journalism and publishing for 30 years until he had the vision to start Mighty Writers a few years ago.
“Teaching kids to write seemed like a natural career switch,” Whitaker said. “If you know how to write with clarity, good things happen.”
Mighty Writers, located on 1501 Christian St., offers free writing programs to children ages 7 to 17. Along with the daily after-school program, it holds both long-term and short-term workshops, an SAT Preparatory course and a weekly “Writers Lounge” for high school students.
Rachel Loeper, program director for Mighty Writers, manages the daily operation of the after-school programs, the Writing Mentors program, high-school and college internship programs and writing workshops.
“It’s amazing to see the magic that happens each day that we’re open, when school children are given the opportunity for collaboration with working writers who care,” Loeper said.
She noted the children in the community really love the program and want to be involved.
“In the hours that we’re not open, we have kids banging down the doors,” Loeper said.
Teachers, journalists, artists and other professionals gather at Mighty Writers to volunteer to teach and mentor these local students. Participants of the program at Mighty Writers found comic books to be a great way to introduce writing to children.
With the goal of expanding centers in other parts of the city’s neighborhoods, Mighty Writers accomplished opening a center on 641 South St. The South Street space called MIGHTYVISION, is used to exclusively teach kids comic book writing. MIGHTYVISION is also a space used to sell comic art as a way to support the programming.
Renee Sallen, a mother who has children that participate in the program, finds Mighty Writers to be a great way to keep her children busy, motivated and out of trouble.
“Not only are my kids staying out of trouble, but they are learning new writing skills and techniques and to my surprise have become better writers,” she said. “They have learned to use their imaginations and are better able to create more interesting stories, poems, comics, plays and the artwork to go along with them.”
Sallen’s 11-year-old daughter, Naadiyah, had a love for styling hair and her love blossomed when she took part in the “Hair Stories” workshop at Mighty Writers. Through this workshop Naadiyah learned to love her hair texture and to find the beauty in it.
“This I feel is very important because she will never have the long, straight, flowing hair that she sees in the magazines and on television,” she said.
Sallen’s 13-year-old son Na’eem, voluntarily attends the Wednesday night Teen Lounge every week.
Sallen has noticed the improvement in Na’eem’s writing and is pleased to see her son take part in this workshop without having to push him to do so.
Mighty Writers’ website, www.mightywriters.org, contains a lot of information about the program, directors and volunteers and how to get involved.
Their goal is to continue to inspire and combat Philadelphia’s literacy crisis.