A citywide effort, spearheaded by the Parks and Recreation Department, continues to update citizens across Philadelphia about efforts to make the streets free and safe from illegal ATVs.
On Wednesday night, at a community meeting at 250 South 63rd Street, Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis continued to update residents about what the commission, which replaced the old Fairmount Park Commission, is doing
“It’s an ongoing process,” DiBerardinis said, “but the hope is to continue to have the violators of the city respect the laws of the city. It’s for their safety and other citizens as well.”
The meeting was the second such meeting this fall. Earlier this year, at a meeting in Tacony Park, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Water Department and the Department of Parks and Recreation announced that they were making great strides in ridding the city of the illegal, four-wheel vehicles.
The profile of the lawbreakers is almost always the same: young men seeking a thrill who carelessly maneuver the vehicles through city streets, popping wheelies and revving the engines to an annoying level.
Make no mistake about it; it is illegal to drive the vehicles on city streets. And many of the vehicles are stolen, according to police. But the city will continue its efforts through the winter to continue to reduce the problem.
“If an ATV operator is stopped by police, the penalty is a traffic ticket — and of course they have to appear in traffic court. But if the ATV is stolen or if the operator resists arrest then they face other charges,” said Tasha Jamerson, spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
“It’s true, they are illegal to be operated on the city streets. They’re not designed for that and certainly not designed to be driven at breakneck speed, which you often see a lot of riders doing,” said Sgt. Robert Gramlich of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Accident Investigation Division. “They’re supposed to be registered, but I would say that in the city, 99 percent of them are not. They are either stolen or otherwise being used without the owners’ permission. Most of the ones we see that are involved in accident investigations are stolen.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Division, the number of four-wheeled ATVs in use across the nation has increased from just over 2 million to more than 6.9 million over the past decade. From 1982 through 2004, there were almost 6,500 deaths involving ATVS. In 2004 alone, an estimated 136,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for ATV related injuries; many of those injuries were life-altering. In 2003, an estimated 740 people died nationwide in ATV incidents. About 30 percent of all deaths and injuries from ATV accidents involve children younger than 16.
Across the state, there are a number of regulations regarding the operation of ATVs:
*All ATVs must be titled and registered, with the owner receiving one numbered plate.
*No ATV shall be operated without a lighted headlight and taillight from ½ hour after sun set to ½ hour before sunrise.
* Registration is to be renewed once every two years.
No one under age 8 shall operate an ATV on state-owned land.
*No one between 8 and 15 may operate an ATV unless on a parent’s land or in possession of a safety training certificate.
*No one under 16 may cross a highway or operate an ATV on designated roads unless in possession of safety certificate and with an adult 18 or over.
*ATV use on any street or highway is prohibited, except to cross and except for roads designated at ATV roads.
The 3 ½ years Bryan Blair spent behind bars at the SCI-Smithfield correctional facility in Huntingdon, Pa., gave him plenty of time to think about what would be important to him when he got out.
Serving time for illegal possession of a firearm, Blair thought about the woman he would propose to, finding work in a bearish economy and rebuilding a relationship with his 12-year-old son, whom he had not seen for almost four years.
Since his release last May, Blair, 33, has been able to put an ‘X’ next to one item on his bucket list. He and his fiancée, Barbara Thomas, became engaged on July 4 and are planning a Dec. 2012 wedding. And he’s trying to find work again in this vicious economy, something that he’s optimistic will eventually happen.
But parenting was the one area that Blair saw as the most daunting. His father, whom he calls regularly, was not very involved in his life as a youngster. And Blair wants to be as involved in his son’s life as much as possible.
“When I was a kid, I spent one holiday weekend with my father,” Blair recalls. “I would see him on the streets but there was never any, you know, ‘hey, that’s my son right there.’ I reached out to him recently to let him know that I love him. But the one thing I never wanted to do was to have that kind of relationship with my son.”
Enter Turning Points for Children (TPC), located at 415 South 15th Street in Center City. One of the oldest private social organizations in the country, one of TPC’s new programs focuses on reintroducing previously incarcerated fathers back into their children’s lives in a healthy fashion.
TPC works hand in hand with MinSec Treatment Centers Inc., a private, community-based, outpatient substance abuse treatment service with special emphasis on relapse prevention and related criminal behaviors. The two have collaborated to develop a 12-week program that prepares men such as Blair to be productive family men.
Thus far there have been two classes, according to lead facilitator Lauren McLaughlin, composed of about 12 men per session. A third session is in progress right now. The men are taught parent solving techniques such as communication and crisis resolution. The goal is to equip them to do something that in all likeliness they had no preparation for while behind bars — become real fathers.
“I have seen remarkable growth in Brian and the other men that have participated in the program,” McLaughlin said. “He’s learned how powerful words can be; how important it is to be able to communicate with your children. He’s in a situation where he might not see his son for some time. But when he does he will be very well equipped to being a successful parent.”
While many fathers going through the program immediately get to apply what they have learned, this is not the case for Blair. During his incarceration, his son moved to Arizona where he lives with his maternal grandmother and mother. He has had some marginal phone contact with him but has yet to see him since his release. In February, he will begin fighting for full custody of his son.
That’s okay for now, Blair adds. He says that one of the major components of the TPC program is building patience. And until he sees his son — he hopes to see him in early 2012 — he will continue to apply what he’s learned.
“The program has helped me in all aspects of my life,” Blair, who received a certificate upon completion and never missed a two-hour session, says. “The program has helped me to understand what it’s like to be a father, especially since I didn’t always have my father around.
“As far as not seeing my son, I’m patient,” Blair continued. “It will be four years in January since I’ve seen him. But that’s okay; I love my son. I’m going to see him, and when I do I’ll know exactly how to explain the past to him.”
Thomas, who has a 12-year-old daughter, says that she has seen the impact of the program. Blair knows that he will eventually have a blended family, says Thomas, who adds that her daughter says she is sometimes emotionally detached.
Thomas says that these days Blair helps her with that.
“He is a good person,” Thomas says. “He’s not judgmental. My daughter will come to him sometimes, and I watch the way he responds to her. He’s a good person. He’s loving and caring. I just think the program has brought all of that out of him.”
Note: For more information on Turning Points for Children and its programs, call (215) 875-8200.
New leaders to address Black students’ ‘achievement gap’
Much of the news coming out of the Lower Merion School District lately has been about racially-tinged court fights, battles over special education and redistricting that usually leave a nasty taste in the mouths of those involved.
But earlier this month the LMSD came together and made history when it elected to serve on its school board — for the first time in its history, a pair of African Americans — Rev. Virginia Pollard and Dr. Robin Vann Lynch.
Both Pollard and Van Lynch will serve four-year terms. Pollard was appointed on an interim basis in Sept. 2010 when Linda Doucette-Ashman resigned.
“While we generally do not comment on election results, we certainly recognize and appreciate the significance of this milestone,” said LMSD spokesman Doug Young. “We look forward to working with our new and returning board members and wish them the very best in their service.”
Pollard, the wife of Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore Pastor James Pollard, has been a resident there since her husband took the church in 1970.
An associate minister at the church working on a graduate degree at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Pollard is ecstatic to be serving alongside her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister.
“It’s indescribable,” Pollard, who has raised three children in the LMSD, said. “We have made history. Never before in the history of Lower Merion have we had two African Americans serving at the same time on the board. This is great.”
While Pollard has been in the district for years, Vann Lynch, an adjunct professor at Drexel — with a Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership — has been living with her husband and their three children in Lower Merion for the last six years.
“I bridge the gap between the old and the new,” Pollard explained. “I know people who have been living here and raising their children here for years. Robin brings that expertise. She specializes in teaching teachers how to teach. Together, we’ll address all the issues of the children in the district. We want to look at everything that is happening to all students, whether it is in classes where they are challenged or gifted, we want to make sure that the children are getting the very best from the school district.
The LMSD has had a bumpy history with African-American students, particularly in the area of special education. A recent suit against the district alleging that Lower Merion teachers intentionally assigned African-American students to special education classes at a disproportionate rate was recently thrown out.
The suit maintained that African-Americans, just 8 percent of the school district, made up more than 14 percent of the students in special education. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have not said whether or not they will appeal the ruling.
While acknowledging that her role is to advocate for all children in the 6,700-seat district, Van Lynch talks directly about closing the achievement gap between African Americans and whites.
“There are lots of students that are getting caught in the achievement gap,” Vann Lynch said. “For me, it’s important that we start asking the right questions. We need to find out why African-American students are over-represented in special education classes and underrepresented in the advanced and honors classes.”
Needless to say, African-Americans in Lower Merion are optimistic and hopeful both Pollard and Vann Lynch in place.
Loraine Carter is president of Concerned Black Parents, a mostly African-American group of parents that advocates for better educational opportunities for minority students in the LMSD.
“There are an awful lot of things going on in this community about race,” Carter said. “With two African Americans on the board, we’re setting a precedent. But this is definitely a step in the right direction as far as addressing some of the issues that African Americans have had for years. They are not a cure-all, but they are definitely a step in the right direction.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s love for Penn State University runs deep, so deep, in fact, that 10 years after finishing her graduate work she found herself working as her alma mater’s regional director of recruitment, long before she started her political career.
She laughs when she’s reminded of the bumper sticker – the one that reads “If God isn’t a Penn State fan then why is the sky blue and white?” – that those proud of the institution have put on the backs of their cars for decades.
Reynolds Brown is also the mother of a 15-year-old daughter. She has been, if nothing more, a ferocious advocate for children, responsible, along with former Mayor John F. Street, for convincing the Phillies and the Eagles to contribute $1 million each over the next 30 years to establish a children’s fund.
But the never-ending stream of sordid details from the child sex scandal oozing out of Happy Valley is where she draws the line.
“As a mother,” Reynolds Brown said, “when I think that for eight years what any child had to endure during that time, it just breaks my heart. And to know that the adults involved deliberately looked the other way.”
Reynolds Brown admitted that she had not seen the 23-page grand jury report that resulted in the arrest and arraignment of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 criminal counts. But like everyone else, she has heard the accounts of how Sandusky allegedly showered with and sodomized boys right on the Penn State campus. And how he allegedly once told a woman who suspected him of showering with her son that he could not promise her that he would not do it again.
The fallout has been incalculable. Penn State’s trustees have fired legendary coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz have been charged with covering up what they knew about allegations leveled against Sandusky, and rioting broke out late Wednesday and carried over into Thursday morning on the State College campus after Paterno, in his 46th season, was fired.
Pity, however, is not an emotion Reynolds Brown can muster for Paterno or anyone else caught up in the scandal. She is completely satisfied that Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history, has gotten the ax.
Paterno is not facing legal action, because he told Curley of the allegations against Sandusky. However, some alumni say he had a moral obligation to remove Sandusky after the incidents were first reported.
Sandusky retired as an assistant coach in 1999 after 30 years there. However, much of the abuse cited in the grand jury report happened while he continued to operate his nonprofit for at-risk boys, The Second Mile, on Penn State’s campus.
“To know that they chose to be silent about that - and that as a consequence of their silence there are so many more victims;that’s indefensible,” Reynolds Brown said. “I won’t say that [Paterno] was complicit. I will say that he did not exercise his moral authority. Let his kids walk in the shoes of the kids who experienced what they did for one hour.”
After the story broke, Paterno still maintained that he wanted to remain as coach for the final three games of the regular season and any potential bowl bid that Penn State (8-1) might receive.
“No, he doesn’t deserve that chance,” Reynolds Brown said.
Bruce B. Rush, president and CEO of The Marketing Store, a one-stop marketing and public relations firm in the city, has a B.S. in science and an MBA in marketing from Penn State. He loves the school so much that he once tried to become a trustee.
Rush, too, is satisfied with the actions of the trustees.
“I live and die with Penn State football,” said Rush, who has been to at least one home football game this season. “But this gives us a black eye. I’m energized because the board of trustees did not hide from it. If they are going overboard, they are doing erring on the side of caution. There is a whole lot of healing that has to take place.”
Former Nittany Lions cornerback Adam Taliaferro suffered a spinal cord injury while playing at Penn State in 2000. He bounced back from that injury in spectacular fashion. Told he would never walk again, Taliaferro, of South Jersey, is a lawyer who earlier this week won a freeholder’s seat in Gloucester County.
He says he was never aware of any rumors concerning the program, to which he says he remains close to this day.
“It’s like, ‘What the heck just happened?’” Taliaferro said on a radio show earlier this week. “I’m kind of still at a loss for words. It’s hard. I know those guys. I knew all those guys and grew close to them over the last 11 years. And to see them, for this to happen, and for the victims to be going through this, it’s just sad.”
What are they giving back to the community?
It is a question often asked by African Americans of the stores that do business in predominantly African-American neighborhoods from coast to coast, and often the answer is unsatisfactory.
This is not the case, however, with Philadelphia-based urban apparel retailer Villa. With 11 of its 32 stores (with locations also in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, Reading, York, Allentown, Camden, Cleveland and Toledo) located in Philadelphia, the company has initiated a new marketing campaign — “Dream Project” — aimed at inspiring and “awakening the dreams within Philadelphia’s youth.”
Late last month at Benjamin Franklin High School, the Dream Project brought together more than 500 local high school students for a day of engagement and mentoring from more than 70 business executives representing companies such as Nike, BET, American Express, Fannie Mae and others. Mayor Michael Nutter was in attendance, as was former Def Jam president Kevin Liles. Liles has played a major role in the success of artists such as Jay Z, Ludacris , LL Cool J and Ashanti, to name a few.
Students participated in panel discussions with the various professionals. They were given exposure to potential career pathways outside of the norm, such as in sports, entertainment, banking and finance, business and marketing, E-commerce and real estate.”
“I enjoyed interacting with all the kids, and as the day progressed, I personally saw kids’ lives were being impacted positively, said Hezekiah Griggs, managing partner at New York-based H360 Capital. “I received several emails that impressed upon me the importance of what took place during the day.”
According to Patrick Walsh, vice president of marketing at Villa, the company will continue to gain more visibility but not just as a retailer. Next Wednesday, Villa will host a screening of CNN’s Black in America 4. The event will be held at Shoemaker Mastery Charter in West Philadelphia. Four hundred students from the Mastery charters will screen the show and then have a chance to pepper Emmy Award-winning producer Jason Samuels, an African American, about his career path. Samuels is the producer of the show.
Joining Samuels on the panel will be Navarrow Wright. Wright is one of the featured success stories in Black in America. He is the chief technology officer at Interactive One, the nation’s largest digital media company serving African Americans.
“It’s imperative — and it’s our obligation as African Americans, that we do all that we can to expose the future leaders to all different sorts of opportunities,” Wright said recently.
And on Jan. 1, at the Liacouras Center, Villa will host a high school basketball tournament, bringing together nationally ranked teams from the New York and Philadelphia areas with the proceeds being funneled back into the Dream Project.
All of these ventures are under the directorship of Patrick Walsh, vice president of marketing at Villa. Before he embarked on the project, Walsh spent time going throughout the city and talking directly with students, wanting to find out exactly what their aspirations were for the future.
“Everyone who has seen the struggles of the last 12 months knows it has been hard on the youth,” Walsh says. “Flash mobs, bullying, problems on public transportation. We’ve seen a lot of negative stories in terms of our youth.
“I wanted to interact with the kids and see what they were doing, and you know what?” Walsh continued, “I walked away with the understanding that the bulk of our kids are not doing these things. A lot of the kids looked just like me and others who are being successful. But they wonder who is going to help them get to their destiny.”
Walsh knows that as the director of marketing for a growing company, his job is to drive business to Villa. But he grew up in the hard scrabble neighborhoods of Queens and Harlem watching African Americans struggle to get ahead.
“We are going to do more,” Walsh said. “The Dream Project is just a launch pad. It is a launch pad for sharing success stories in the community. There are so many stories of successful minorities in non-traditional businesses. We have connections to phenomenal people. It’s our obligation to get the message out so that our kids can aspire to be just like them.”