The Dixon House, at 1920 S. 20th St., has been a neighborhood community center in the South Philadelphia community for 75 years. Providing the neighborhood with social services, community forums, health services, Girl Scouts and an array of activities—this division of Diversified Community Services (DCS), has made its mark in the neighborhood.
Incorporated in 1968, DCS is a nonprofit, multi-purpose social service agency in South Philadelphia, giving families and children the opportunity to be self-sufficient in their neighborhoods. The Dixon House has been a go-to place for neighbors and community members to receive housing counseling and other forms of financial guidance.
“Most people know about Dixon House and our services—like our utility programs,” said Diane Grimes, director. “We help people who are on the verge of having utilities cut off, people who are on the verge of losing their home, people who need rental assistance or people who are in domestic violence.”
Grimes has been with the center for 27 years and has seen it develop and meet the needs of the community throughout the years. She started off as a volunteer and at the time the center did not offer social programs, Grimes said.
“As a volunteer I went out in the neighborhood and found out a lot of neighbors were living with one of their utilities shut off, so I began to advocate with the gas companies and electric companies—I wanted to help people get their utilities back” she said. “Then the city approached us with some money and then we became a social service center.”
One of the services the center provides is a computer class taught Mondays and Wednesdays to help familiarize residents who may not have access to computers, with necessary computer skills that will assist them in job applications, resumes and other purposes.
Along with these classes, the center offers housing counseling that helps families become first time homeowners. They provide financial management and home ownership workshops that explore budgeting, credit repair and mortgage foreclosure prevention.
Charlene Houston, housing counselor, feels when counseling clients, it’s important to gain relationships.
“You really need to get to know the clients,” Houston said. “It’s nice to be able to see what other opportunities may be available to them.”
Houston feels their impact in the community is “huge” because they assist people in purchasing homes, finding a home and bringing awareness to programs that are beneficial to the process.
“There are a lot of programs out there that are available for homeowners but they’re not aware of them,” she said. “We play a crucial role in educating the homeowners and letting them know what resources are available.”
Dixon House also offers “Adult & Family Services,” a parenting program that consists of a 13-week class, offering guidance on appropriate usage of discipline, anger management and conflict resolution sessions. Their Homeless Prevention Program keeps community members from being evicted and the center’s community forums inform residents of available public and private benefits.
With a wide range of services, this community-based organization aims to help their neighbors in a variety of ways.
“We are just a community center that does everything,” Grimes said.
West Philadelphia native Kevin Carr had dreams of success like anyone else.
Now author of “If All Men are Dogs Then Women You Hold the Leash: How Far We Go Depends on You,” Carr is an advocate for anyone to follow their dreams.
Growing up, Carr experienced negativity and pessimistic attitudes of young African-American men excelling.
A graduate of Northeast High School, Carr, 30, always wanted to play football until 10th grade, when he discovered his love for music. He joined a music group and attended Philadelphia University for two years. He left school to focus on his music career until returning to Strayer University in 2007.
Starting out as an intern four years ago, Carr currently works in promotions at Radio One, an urban-oriented multi-media company targeting African-Americans. He also owns a recording studio in West Philadelphia, Concrete Music Studio.
“I built relationships, I knew I always wanted to stay in the music industry,” he said.
It wasn’t until a car ride to take his cousin to be induced in labor, that Carr became inspired to write a book. On his way to the hospital, Carr questioned where the missing father of his cousin’s soon-to-be-born baby was.
When his cousin revealed to him the issues in their relationship, he was inspired to write “If All Men are Dogs Then Women You Hold the Leash: How Far We Go Depends on You.”
His book is focused on how women view their intimate relationships and how they perceive themselves. One of Carr’s main points in the book is that everyone in a relationship is responsible for their own lives and happiness.
“We are here for a reason and a purpose,” he said.
Carr’s book is a guide for both men and women to gain perspective on their intimate relationships.
Setting and sticking to standards is one example of what Carr thinks is important to maintain in a relationship. This is especially addressed in his fourth chapter “Stop Letting the Dog Walk You,” where he stressed for women to go after their “ideal” and to not settle for anything less.
Seeking fulfillment solely from a significant other, rather than finding it within oneself, can be troublesome, according to Carr. He also believes the media’s depictions of women can have a negative affect on relationships.
“We turn on our TV and see reality shows which aren’t the best depictions of women,” he said. “You don’t see the ‘Runs House’ on TV — that was a show that really depicted a Black family—because we don’t see it and it’s not placed in our forefront, we think that it’s normal.”
Carr feels his success is due to hard work and the support from people who had his best interest at heart. He believes it is important to work hard for what you want.
“Anyone interested in doing anything is good,” he said. “If you’re going to start, don’t stop — it’s a process.”
The word “thankful” goes deeper than its name for Thankful Baptist Church, a church that appreciates its community and focuses on giving back. Founded in 1923, Thankful Baptist has proven that its members are dedicated to both its sanctuary and the community.
The Rev. Ivan B. Hewitt, the pastor at Thankful, has been serving the church for the past 25 years. With just four pastors preceding him in an almost 90-year history, Thankful prides itself on the longevity of both the leadership and the members.
“The fact that I’m the fifth pastor in 90 years is unique,” said Hewitt. “I am the second in longevity; Rev. Harrison J. Trap the pastor preceding me, was here for 38 years.”
Thankful Baptist Church, at 1608 W. Allegheny Ave., transmits enthusiasm both inside the sanctuary and out. In an effort to reach out and aid the community, the church owns various properties in the neighborhood and is looking to buy three more houses, Hewitt said.
“The intent is to own the whole block,” he said. “We are still trying. We are a mission church. We feel a sense of movement, but we are not moving as fast as we ought to be, we are not moving as far as we want to — but there is a sense of movement.”
In close proximity to the church is the Thankful Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that provides day care, after-school and parenting programs. As Hewitt explained, years ago the church lent use of a building to the organizers, with free use of utilities and electricity, before it returned to the neighborhood, bought a space and named it the Thankful Learning Center. The church maintains a good relationship with the center.
“Some of their workers are members of the church,” Hewitt said.
Emma L. Parish, 91, has been a member of Thankful for 65 years. Parish has experienced various changes within the church, but through many years still feels it holds the important values it has intended to.
“This church means so much to me — I’ll tell you, when I first came here from Georgia my husband and I both joined the church when it was on 21st Street,” Parish said. “I’ve seen them come and go, but everything is still all right. Ain’t nobody going to run me away now.”
The churchgoers at Thankful Baptist are engaged in its sermons and missions. On Sunday, July 15, Hewitt reached his church by preaching the message to always “have church in you.” He explained the importance of worship and allowing it to constantly be present.
“If nobody but me … I’m going to have church by myself, just me and the Lord,” he told the congregation.
This message surely transmits their devotion to the community. Every Wednesday, Thankful provides meals to people in the neighborhood. Additionally, the congregation hosts what they call “Community Day” when they give away clothing and food to those in the area.
“That’s not us being generous; we feel we owe it to the community,” Hewitt said. “We have a parking lot across the street, but the community can use it anytime. We feel that we are here because of the community — we try to make this a beacon in the area — they make us better.”
The church also donates electric fans to community members who need them. Should they also need assistance in paying their electric bills, Thankful offers assistance in paying those bills for a period of time.
“Our job is to bless those in the community and hopefully God will bless us,” Hewitt said.
Thankful Baptist has had a few prominent figures visit throughout the years, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Its widespread outreach also includes mission work in Cuba and Haiti, developed under the leadership of Hewitt’s predecessor, the Rev. Harrison J. Trap.
Thankful also has a social action approach, with a life membership to the NAACP and a commitment to support schools such as Delaware State, Temple University, Cheyney University and Virginia Union.
“We support schools where our members go to,” Hewitt said.
The Rev. Gerald Love is a long-time member of Thankful and the church has played an important role in his life.
“This church means everything to me. I was raised here in this church; I’ve been a part of this church since the ’60s,” he said. “I came to the church with my mother and I’ve attended Sunday school, Bible school, [and] camp, and I worked under Rev. Trap. He was a wonderful man. I traveled with him all over the United States. He did a lot of work in missions all over in Africa and the Caribbean. I’ve been a part of this church all my life, it’s just a joy. I love the fellowship, I love the people.”
The Rev. Barbara Day reflects on her 14-year journey at Thankful and feels ever more grateful for Hewitt, the church and the warm presence of its members. She previously belonged to another church until an incident occurred where she recalled knowing it was a good time for her to find a new church home.
“I am so grateful I belong to the Thankful Baptist Church. I’ve been here for 14 years, and this was the best decision I could make,” Day said. “I think Pastor Hewitt is the most humble person. All I need to do is see him … when I see him I get joy in my heart — I really do. He is so genuine.”
Throughout Thankful’s long history, the church has experienced various changes in its different communities. Hewitt reflected on a major increase in thievery in the late ’80s.
“Now it seems the closer you come to the church, the better the neighborhood is,” he said.
As a church that is focused on its community and social change, Thankful Baptist will continue to make its mark in the neighborhood.
“We are an oasis, and we open our doors to anyone.”
Thomas Knudsen to act as superintendent, finance chief
The Philadelphia School District — on the heels of announcing last week that it has established a new superintendent search team — made a major announcement regarding its organizational structure and finances.
The School Reform Commission meeting Thursday night revealed the district will have to cut an additional $61 million by June, and named a new “chief recovery officer” to assist in its struggling financial state.
The SRC named Thomas Knudsen, the turnaround expert who led the Philadelphia Gas Works to fiscal sanity, as chief recovery officer, a position which will function as both superintendent and chief financial officer. Leroy Nunery, the former interim superintendent, and Michael Masch, the former chief financial officer, will both continue to work for the district, but in diminished roles.
It was also revealed Thursday that the district will be withholding promised raises from blue collar workers who were scheduled to see increases in their salaries starting this week.
Capping the school district’s tumultuous last few weeks was the civil lawsuit filed by former district executive John L. Byars. Byars’ suit alleges he was made the scapegoat when critics decried a no-bid contract awarded to minority firm, IBS Communications Inc. Byars alleges that former superintendent Arlene Ackerman not only steered IBS to the contract, but signed off on the $7.5 million plan, even though there were plans to award that contract to the Newton, Bucks County-based firm Security & Data Technologies.
Byars filed his suit Jan. 11, and named acting school superintendent Leroy D. Nunery II, Ackerman, the SRC, the School District of Philadelphia, Robert Archie Jr., Denise McGregor Armbrister, Johnny Irizarry, Estelle G. Matthews, Jamilah Fraser and Shana Kemp as defendants.
There are other issues swirling around the district as well.
Commissioner Feather Houstoun displayed a presentation at Thursday’s meeting that she called “budget stress arithmetic” to comment on the state of the district’s finances, and the appointment of a permanent superintendent search team. Joseph Dworetzky, who is also named in the suit, has been appointed a member of the search team.
“We’re not as well off as we were three months ago,” Houstoun told the audience. “We are losing ground for a number of reasons.”
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.
Brandy Norwood is no stranger to juggling the music and film scene. She had an early start in 1993 on TV series “Thea” and was 15 years old when her debut album, “Brandy,” was released the following year. Two years later, she became the star of the UPN network sitcom “Moesha.”
Screaming fans and attendees of the sixth annual Global Fusion Festival chanted, “Brandy!” — calling the award-winning R&B singer/actress to return to the stage after her headlining performance last Saturday.
Brandy left her mark at the festival, gracing the stage singing “Put it Down” from her upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” along with songs that took the audience on a trip down memory lane. She performed a few of her ’90s hits, including “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby” from her 1994 album titled “Brandy.”
Following a slew of artists, including Kenny Lattimore, Luke James, Elle Varner and Kendrick Lamar, Brandy’s finale was complete after the persistent crowd got her to return on stage for one more song. The crowd cheered and sang along as Brandy came back and performed “The Boy is Mine,” a 1998 duet with award-winning singer/actress Monica.
She won a Grammy award for the “Boy is Mine,” from her best-selling album, “Never Say Never,” then later released albums “Full Moon,” “Afrodisiac” and “Human.” With a wide-range of awards under her belt and making “Billboard’s Hot 100 Song of the Year,” Brandy also had various roles on both TV sitcoms and in films including, “Cinderella” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
Balancing acting and singing, Brandy explained that after being on a hiatus for some time — “It’s time to get out there and work.”
She plans to continue her role on BET’s show “The Game,” while maintaining her singing career.
“It’s also about finding time to make quality time for the people that you love, plus the fans that I love too, so it works itself out — it’s a lot of fun though,” Brandy explained in a press conference following the show. “I like them [music and acting] both, they both give me a different feeling.”
Brandy’s upcoming album is heavily influenced by her surroundings. She explained that music is “therapeutic” and a way to express whatever is going on in her life — including her love life.
“I feel like the chapter in my life in the last couple of years is what the album represents,” she said. “Music is supposed to come from an honest place, I’m definitely celebrating the fact that love has definitely entered my life in a very positive way.”
In Brandy’s newest album, fans can look forward to experiencing “the core of R&B,” as she describes it. She expressed the joy of working with writers like singer/songwriter/producer Sean Garret and Ester Dean and producers like Grammy-award winning producer Bangladesh. Brandy was also enthused about her work with various artists, including R&B singer Frank Ocean, who she describes as a “genius and a gift to the world.”
With the excitement of her upcoming album and continuing to remain close to her R&B roots, Brandy was pleased with the positive feedback from the Philly audience.
“The crowd was unbelievable, they were chanting through the quiet moments in the show, it just felt like everybody was my friend — that’s how it felt from the moment I got here,” she said. “I just felt really welcomed and at home — I like Philly —
there are some good people from Philly.”
Brandy smiled, referencing her boyfriend, Ryan, who is from Philadelphia.
Brandy’s upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” is scheduled to release Oct. 2.
When Michele Lawrence learned of the alarming high-school dropout rate statistics and high chances of imprisonment for African-American boys, she was motivated to start an organization that would fight against those odds.
Lawrence attended a neighborhood meeting with a friend discussing imprisonment and education and how it relates to African-American boys.
“I heard prisons were being built in Pennsylvania based on the test scores of eight-year-old boys,” Lawrence said. “Now they’re telling 8-year-old boys, ‘don’t dare to dream because you’ll be an inmate rather than a graduate.’”
Lawrence felt something had to be done right away. She called a meeting with a few men she knew to discuss her concerns. Inspired by a ceremony for Cheyney University’s teacher leadership program, Call Me MISTER, Lawrence and her team launched Saving Our Boys.
Saving Our Boys is a program in conjunction with Call Me MISTER, providing opportunity, access and support to young boys of color in the Philadelphia metropolitan community.
This past August, the Saving Our Boys Summer Leadership Development Institute was created to fight the drop-out rates and prison epidemic amongst African-American males.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, African Americans in Pennsylvania reported having a high-school dropout rate during the 2007–2008 year of 5.7 percent compared to 1.7 percent of whites.
In an effort to counteract these statistics, the program held its first cohort of 31 boys from various high schools ranging in grades 9–12. The young men stayed on Cheyney’s campus for five days from Aug. 10 to 14. The program focused on goal setting, college preparedness, SAT preparation and pre-professional skills. The participants also had the opportunity to participate in recreational activities such as swimming, tennis, golf and basketball.
The young men kept busy beginning their day at 7 a.m. with a 40-minute workout, followed by showers and breakfast, leading to meditation. Throughout the rest of the day, there were workshops and mentoring discussions with various professional men.
“It’s a village we are creating to save these boys,” Lawrence said. “I’m always on the phone with parents.”
One of those parents, Kia Mason, felt the workshops and dorm-like experience have had a positive impact on her two sons. Mason’s two sons, Dontae DeLoapch (18) and Brandon Henderson (17), attended the summer program, and both young men left with a greater skill base and enhanced perspective.
Mason is extremely proud of Henderson’s new entrepreneurial mindset she believes is a result of her son’s experience with Saving Our Boys.
“They had a session about owning your own business,” Mason said. “Brandon took that and related it to his love for cutting hair.”
Henderson made his own business plan and pitched his business idea to an investor. He was able to get an investor to buy his equipment for cutting hair and now travels to people’s houses to cut their hair — or cuts right out of their basement.
“I always knew how to cut hair, but it motivated me to start doing it and stacking up clientele,” Henderson said. “I now have 20 clients.”
Mason believes her son, DeLopach, has gained great communication skills from being a part of Saving Our Boys.
“What I’ve noticed is, he is coming out of his shell,” she said. DeLopach is a senior at Penn Wood High School and is planning on attending college after graduation.
The Saving Our Boys program certainly did not end in the summer. The program has continued with monthly Saturday sessions during the school year with the directors of the program. One important initiative within the program is public service in which the participants volunteered and painted a house in November. They also visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia and participated in various meetings and programs with their mentors, expanding on the ideas and principles from the summer. The program will be expanding to include middle-school age boys, and Lawrence and her team plan to have sessions for this younger group next summer.
Saving Our Boys works to repair the vision and future of African-American males by guiding young men to a bright future.
Mo’ne Davis is only girl on boys team
Mo’ne Davis was never into dolls and dance class. Her mother tried everything to pique her interest, until everyone around her would soon realize she was a born athlete.
Davis, 10, was spotted one day by Steve Bandura, program director at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia three years ago playing football with her older brother and cousins.
“There she was throwing this football in perfect spirals, effortless and running these tough kids down and tackling them,” he said.
Bandura introduced himself to her and invited her to a basketball practice at the center where they were working on the complicated “three man weave” drill. He suggested she watch the practice but Davis decided she would participate.
“Her eyes were just glued on the drill and when it came time for her turn she went through it like she has been doing it a thousand times,” he said. “I just knew right then.”
Davis became Bandura’s best basketball player and excelled in baseball and soccer as well. The team at the center consists of one team, that plays basketball, baseball and soccer in the different seasons. Davis not only stands out as an excellent player — she is the only girl on the team.
With sponsors and Bandura’s help, Davis transferred to Springside School, a private all-girls school in Chestnut Hill.
Davis’ mom Lakeisha McClean is happy with where her daughter attends school and is grateful to Bandura and the Marian Anderson Recreation Center.
“It changed a lot of things for her,” she said.
Davis loves sports and is glad she has been exposed to baseball and soccer.
“If it wasn’t for Marian Anderson, I probably wouldn’t have learned how to play baseball or soccer,” she said.
McClean had no idea her daughter was such an athlete. She was surprised to see her daughter skilled at a variety of sports.
Davis plays pitcher, shortstop and third baseman for baseball, mid-fielder for soccer and is the point guard for the basketball team.
In all three sports she has dominated the game and been a major asset to the team winning city championships this past year.
Davis shows a dedication and a sacrifice that goes way beyond her years. She gets on the bus every morning at 6:15 a.m., in order to travel to Springside School and then goes to the recreation center for either practice or games.
“If I want to go somewhere, I have to work around her schedule,” McClean said. “But she doesn’t complain, she really loves it.”
Davis’ favorite sport may be basketball, but her pitching capabilities causes her opponent teams to be stunned.
Jesse Balcer, the coach of the Fox Rox Baseball Club, played against the Marian Anderson “Monarchs” for the past few years and continues to be impressed with Davis’ talent.
“The first time we played them I remember looking and wondering why this baseman had a pink glove,” Balcer said. “Then I looked closer and thought wait a minute, that’s not a boy it’s a girl!”
Davis continues to impress those around her with her work ethic. She feels it’s important for all girls to stay active.
“When you actually go outside and start to play, you start to really enjoy it,” Davis said.
With alarming statistics indicating African-American children drowning at a much higher rate than of whites, the Christian Street YMCA in South Philadelphia has opened swim classes and teams for children in the area to encourage safety and teamwork.
The center held its first swim meet of the season on Friday. The swim team at the center consists of 22 kids ranging in ages 5 to 13. They have been competing for the last four years and their involvement and participation has increased tremendously.
The staff at the YMCA hopes the team initiative will encourage parents to enroll their kids in swim classes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range.
Jennifer Leupold, advanced program director at the Christian Street branch, felt the swim team was a great way to give children of all backgrounds the opportunity to learn how to swim and improve their skills.
“We do feel it’s really important to give — especially minority youth — a safe place to swim,” she said.
The Christian Street YMCA swim team competed against the Abington YMCA team on Friday. As parents, coaches and staff gathered around to cheer, the swimmers worked to beat their best personal time.
“Our focus is very different, it’s all about personal best,” Leupold said. “We don’t keep scores and we have the kids all set goals in the beginning of the season.”
Monique Smaller-Bush, mother of 5-year-old Adonis, is happy her son is a part of the swim team and feels it’s important he knows how to survive in the water.
“I didn’t want him to be fearful,” she said. “It was important for him to be in swim classes.”
Smaller-Bush has had her son in classes since he was 6 months old. She appreciated the positive team ethic and notices that the kids on the team really encourage each other.
“I’m encouraging my friends with kids to get their kids involved,” she said. “I want kids to feel safe; I think it’s very important.”
The swim team is divided into age groups, and each child from each team swims alongside a swimmer who is within a year or two of their age.
Rachel Haroz, a mother of two boys on the team, 5 and 7, feels the Christian Street Y provides a great venue for her kids to learn how to swim at a reasonable cost. She is pleased with the fun atmosphere and likes the diverse location of the Christian Street branch.
“There are very few swimming programs for kids in the city,” Haroz said. “This is the first place that was consistently good.”
Haroz appreciated the program’s structure to first teach the kids survival and how to tread water and not drown. Her youngest son spent the first weeks of class learning these skills.
As the numbers of participation increased, the swim team is still predominately white. In an effort to combat the statistics of African-American youth drowning, the staff at the YMCA conducts various outreach programs.
As a way to reach out to African-American youth in the community, all branches of the YMCA offer “Splash Week.”
The Christian Street branch has a partnership with the Chester A. Arthur School.
For Splash Week, the staff meets with the physical education teacher and brings students from the school to the center to learn essential swimming skills and self-rescue techniques. The staff then provides parents with information on free membership programs and the center’s swim classes and team.
“Once the kids have access here, we can get them into the swim team,” Leupold said.
Tekserve, New York City’s Apple Macintosh, iPod and accessories specialist, recently hosted a photography exhibition featuring images from Chester Higgins Jr., a staff photographer from The New York Times since 1975. Outside of his work for The New York Times, Higgins has visited Africa more than 30 times to capture photos of the people, ancient cities and small town life in various African countries including; Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal and Ghana.
Higgins grew up in Alabama and started traveling to Africa in 1973. During his first trip, he visited for a week but for the last 12 years he has visited the continent for six weeks at a time. He often brings his wife and their children to visit as well. In an effort to fully embrace all that was around him, Higgins began hiring a driver so he could enjoy looking around as they traveled. Higgins has traveled through various villages and towns, often camping out and building relationships with the people in the areas.
“The photographs that I do are very personal and in order to do that people have to feel really comfortable with me,” he said. “When I go to a village, I present myself because the thing in Africa is; they question what your mission is. So I sit down and try to answer that question.”
Higgins began traveling to Ethiopia and was intrigued by the country’s history and culture.
“Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has never been colonized by Europeans and the people have a sense of ancient pride and a very ancient culture,” he said. “It’s a very different kind of place.”
Through his experiences and travels, Higgins believes the media often does not show an accurate depiction of Africa. His photographs and artwork are meant to counteract that.
“In New York City we live in a very artificial environment and the message most people get about Africa is that everything is bad,” he said. “I’m just trying to connect the people on a very spiritual level and to take you out of your artificial environment and take you to Africa — a very natural environment. I’m trying to show people here that there is a whole other reality.”
Higgins’ fine art books include “Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa,” “Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging” and “Echo of the Spirit.”