It’s done. Legislators have approved changes requiring voters in Pennsylvania to show I.D. at the polls during elections. Opposition and complaints contend that the ID requirement amounts to a modern day poll-tax, taxes once used to keep voters from the polls and therefore constituted another form of voter suppression.
In response to the new voter ID requirement, state Representative Ronald G. Waters held a forum at Sayre High School’s auditorium at 5800 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia, Thursday, March 15 to share awareness about the law as well as to address other community concerns such as school violence and crime.
“We targeted a particular subject that’s pretty important in our area,” said Waters who also chairs the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. “Some of the criminal behaviors and violent crime that concerns many residents, most particularly some of the behavior going on in our schools.”
To hear some of the disturbing stories of delinquency of students attending West and Southwest Philadelphia public schools, one need only talk with some of the educators who often speak about the unruliness of some of the pupils, often from troubled homes, who are often supervised by parents who seem just as unruly as the children themselves.
While this problem is of major concern to the residents of West and Southwest Philly, block captain and Committeewoman Julia Chinn stated that the audience seemed mostly concerned about the new voter ID law.
“It was a very good presentation given by the representative [Waters], opening the eyes of a lot of people that wasn’t even aware that the bill [voter ID law] had been passed,” said Chinn. “We need to be educated about what the new law is about and that we are all going to need ID.
Like others interviewed for this story, Chinn believes that the new law is an attempt by conservatives to derail democratic President Barak Obama from regaining the White House.
“Elections are coming soon, and everyone is going to have to have personal ID such as a driver’s license or non-driver’s license to prove who they are when they go to the polls,” said Chinn.
Chinn praised Waters for spelling out the specific requirements of the law for the community and explaining what it will mean to the voters. Unfortunately, said Chinn, the first forum wasn’t very well attended.
“Waters gave a lot of information that was very fruitful to the community.” said Chinn, “I’m concerned that there just weren’t as many people there as should have been to hear this.”
“In Harrisburg, we were very upset about his unnecessary legislation [requiring voter ID] that will be a hardship on some of our constituents, especially the elderly,” said Waters.
Waters referred to his mother who was born in 1929 and was a consistent voter.
“She knows everyone in the polling place, and everybody knows her. Now, if she does not have the required form of ID, she will not be able to vote,” said Waters who called the law a violation of the state constitution which, water says, states that elections should be free and clear without interruptions.
“The Republican members that voted for this all said that it was against voter fraud,” said Waters. “The bill itself is a fraud. We don’t have voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”
Of the 20 million voters in Philadelphia ballots cast, there were only four complaints of voter fraud and these, said Waters, were not actual cases of fraud but issues of registration and eligibility to vote.
For a list of subsequent forums, call Ronald G. Waters’ office at: 215-748-6712.
West and Southwest Philadelphia residents gathered Thursday at the Mercy Philadelphia Hospital chapel at 5300 Cedar Ave. to discuss community concerns. Illegal dumping, abandoned houses and crime were some of the topics raised during this forum organized by Committeewoman and organizer Julia Chinn.
The meeting was sponsored by the Concerned Block Captains of West/Southwest Philadelphia, which holds its community meetings the second Monday of every month, except July and August, to discuss community concerns.
“We thought that instead of having a regular monthly meeting, we would have something on a topic that needs to be addressed, so our topic for this meeting was crime,” said Chinn, president of the block captain organization.
“We have been around for eons, even though some people say that they never heard of us,” said Chinn about the organization.
During the gathering, residents had an opportunity to hear from a panel, which included Sen. Anthony H. Williams, Anthony Murphy of Townwatch Integrated Services, Lt. Sparrow of the 18th police district, and others who took turns addressing the concerns of the residents.
“The real solution is you,” said Anthony Murphy, executive director of Townwatch. “Our neighborhoods are different than what they were 20 years ago, and they didn’t change overnight. They changed because we stopped doing the neighborly things that we were educated to do.”
Murphy encouraged residents to speak to one another as opposed to talking about one another, stating that the former brings people together and the latter only adds to the division and disunity believed to exist in many inner-city neighborhoods.
Murphy also gave a special acknowledgement to the men in attendance.
“So often we come to these meetings and its women, just ladies — and the ladies are saying, ‘Where are the men at?’ Tonight we don’t have to ask where they are, because they are here,” said Murphy whose statement was greeted with applause.
Bettie Roundtree, a block captain and community organizer, took a moment to thank Julia Chinn for her hard work in the community.
“To see almost every seat filled, you have no idea what joy that gave me. Black people are alright in my book,” said Roundtree in reference to the filled to capacity crowd who attended the affair.
Roundtree congratulated the gathering for creating a forum where residents of West Philly could express their thoughts and opinions — and get needed assistance.
And those concerns were plentiful. One resident expressed her concern about criminals in her neighborhood, suggesting that pictures of suspects should be published publically. This was followed by a brief lesson in the law by Williams.
“In America, you are innocent until proven guilty,” said Williams, who took the opportunity to explain the rights of those accused of a crime and those convicted of a crime.
Another resident complained about an abandoned house where raccoons were nesting; another voiced his outrage at neighborhood youth who congregated on corners and are believed to be responsible for petty crimes and burglaries in the area.
“These same guys are arrested one day, and the next day they are back on the same corners where they were arrested,” said the unidentified resident.
This fact was supported by Lt. Bryant Sparrow, an officer at the 18th police district, who confirmed that there was an increase in burglaries in one West Philadelphia area and that suspected perpetrators were out within three days. He suggested that the community invite judges and bail commissioners to such meetings to express their discontent.
Another woman complained about the trash in her community, adding that she sometimes wished that she could move to a white neighborhood. Williams, himself a resident of West Philadelphia, quickly responded with a statement about personal responsibility for the safety, cleanliness and well-being of our communities.
“With all due respect, the issue about what happens in the neighborhood is why we are gathered here. It’s nothing wrong with being Black, all Black people aren’t dirty,” said Williams, who said it’s not the government that dumps trash on our streets, but our own neighbors.
Williams urged residents to get involved in local government and do their part to preserve the quality of life on their blocks.
During an interview, Chinn reflected on a time when her streets were cleaned every week, trash pick up was twice a week and alleys and curbs were cleaned.
“All of these things have changed,” said Chinn. “We get absolutely none of the above. Crime can start from these kinds of things, because when people look at the neighborhoods, they see no interest [from the community] — and just take over.”
Chinn would like city and state agencies to join the local community in efforts to improve the quality of life, protection and cleanliness of the city’s streets.”
West and Southwest Philadelphia organizers and elected officials were among the many who gathered at the Brown’s Shoprite supermarket at 24th Street and Oregon Avenue on Monday to receive holiday gift baskets, which they in turn will distribute to those in need.
Betty Harris, founder of Betty Harris Homes, Inc., a residential program for abused and neglected children, annually serves hundreds of meals to homeless residents in downtown Philadelphia each Thanksgiving.
Thanks to the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC), she is now able to distribute turkey baskets, each containing one turkey and all of the ingredients necessary for a thanksgiving meal, to ten people in the community who, because of hard economic circumstances would not otherwise be able to help themselves.
Also present was West Philadelphia resident and organizer, Julia Chinn.
“We’d be surprised at how many people are out here that want but cannot receive,” she said. “I made it a point to be here and be available as long as the good Lord lets me, and come down and get the turkey baskets and deliver them to people. Some of the people that I deliver to are amputees that can’t come out.”
Chinn thanked the Urban Affairs Coalition and Brown’s Family Shoprite for their philanthropy and promised to continue serving the needy as long as she is able.
West Philadelphia resident state Rep. Ronald G. Waters, was credited by UAC with participating in this effort every year distributing holiday turkeys to the constituents in his district.
“I enjoy being here every year because I want to be a part of some worthwhile activities and making a difference in the lives of so many homeless in our area,” said Waters who thanked the non-profit groups whose representatives gathered at the event.
Although he couldn’t attend himself, Desiree Jones spoke on behalf of Sen. Anthony H. Williams.
“This is an opportunity to give families food that may not have had it and to give them memories, the most important part,” she said. “What do you remember most about you childhood? The holidays — and we are going to make this holiday a blessed one for a thousand more families than who had it before.”
This was the 28th Annual Thanksgiving Basket Distribution organized by the UAC, and this year the group, whose motto is “driving change from the ground up” was able to provide one thousand turkey baskets to non-profits who will distribute them to those in need within communities across the city.
Farrah Samuels, youth division director and project manager for the event, said that the distribution was important given the poor state of the economy.
“The Urban Affairs Coalition has been doing this for 28 years and every year we raise the money ourselves to provide a thousand Thanksgiving baskets with turkey and all of the trimmings which feeds over 6,000 individuals within families,” she said.
Thanks to donors, the UAC was able to continue its tradition of providing meals to those in need this Thanksgiving.
Sponsors of the effort included: Brown’s ShopRite; Uplift Solutions; The Pepsi Bottling Group; Glory Foods; state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson; state Rep. Ronald G. Waters; state Rep. W. Curtis Thomas; and Sen. Anthony H. Williams.
If you are interested in donating, you can go to www.uac.org or call (215) 851-0110 and specify that you would like to make a donation to the Thanksgiving Basket program.
“We will be collecting donations throughout the year in preparation for next year’s Thanksgiving basket drive,” Samuels said.
A small crowd of friends, colleagues and elected officials gathered in the Cobbs Creek area, to observe the plaque dedication and renaming ceremony in honor of the late Rufus O. Williams, the late father of Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams.
One by one, those who knew Rufus Williams took the podium to tell what an influence he had on the lives of those living in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia.
“We’re having our first Peace in the Community festival to do all that we can to promote peace and harmony here in West Philadelphia,” Williams said.
According to Williams, it was a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, which made the renaming of the park possible.
“For many years my father was responsible for their play area,” said Williams in reference to the playground nearby. “It was directly across the street from where he lived,” Williams said that the family used to joke that his father would jump into his Volkswagen, make a u-turn and go to work.”
An educator by profession, Rufus Williams was perhaps best known in his community for his work with residents and youth.
“My dad’s entire life was devoted and dedicated to children,” Williams said.
Rufus Williams not only coached local youth in sports, but also operated a day camp in Cobbs Creek Recreation Center.
“I’m very thankful,” said Williams about his father’s influence. “I’m the district attorney, but my father did much more than I’ll ever do to prevent crime because of the direct impact he had on the lives of children.”
One of those children was Anthony H. Williams who went on to become a Pennsylvania state senator.
Affectionately refereed to as “Tony” by the people in his Cobbs Creek neighborhood where he grew up, the senator reflected on how Rufus Williams had a positive effect on his life.
“I remember running from the cop in this neighborhood, now I’m close friends with the district attorney,” he said. “Mr. Williams was an educator, an athlete, there are a lot of things we could say about him but what people need to remember most was that he was a protector of our community.”
The senator is no relation to Rufus Williams.
According to him, Rufus Williams spent much of his time, not only in raising and protecting his son Seth but also the children of the neighborhood.
“That’s what made Cobbs Creek what it was and this spirit is now passed down to his son,” the senator said.
West Philadelphia community organizer, Julia Chinn, also had complementary remarks about Rufus Williams.
“I am happy to see so many people out because it was for somebody who was very worthy, it was a long time coming and I wish we could have done it a long time ago,” she said.