Concerned students, educators and community organizers gathered at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 35th and Baring in West Philadelphia to attend a panel discussion on the future of University High School.
University High School is slated to close its doors. It’s the result of the local School Reform Commission (SRC) deciding on cost-cutting measures for the School District of Philadelphia.
The panel, hosted by Philadelphia writer, Solomon Jones, and sponsored by Axis Philly, NBC-10 and other organizations, focused on the possible uses of the building should the school close.
Panelists for the forum included: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Algernong Allen, entrepreneur; DeWayne Drummond, president of Mantua Civic Association; George Poulin, Powelton Village Civic Association; Allan Domb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors and Emily Dowdall, researcher for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We are going out into the community across the city and talking to them about what they want to happen with the school building that is closing in their community,” he said.
Jones noted it was the opinion of those on the panel that the community must have a say about the subsequent uses of school buildings that the SRC plan to close.
“We wanted to bring people together around this issue we hope that the energy that we have here in this room today will propel the community forward,” he said.
To ensure the community was truly represented, Jones made a concerted effort to reach out using social media and through various local organizations to ask who the leaders in the community were so that they could be represented at the forum.
“We were able to identify them and work through them to really talk to and talk through the people in the community,” Jones said.
The author also went to schools and talked to the teachers, who in turn informed their students about what was being done. The outreach efforts paid in attendance.
Nearly every seat in the church was filled with both adults and youth, who were not only students of University City High School, but surrounding schools as well.
Most of the students worked on the Urban Nutrition Initiative farm, which grows fresh organic fruits for local residents in a campaign to provide healthy food choices for nearby residents.
The farm, 13 years in operation, was dear to the hearts of the students who worked there and was the major focus of the students in attendance.
Jahnae Robinson, 17, attends George Washington High School and worked at University City Garden.
“It affects everybody,” said Robinson. “I don’t go to school there but I work there.”
“It’s good for the community and we’re helping others by helping ourselves,” said Shalisa Gilliard, 16, who attends the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Gilliard said the University Garden represents 13 years of hard work of the students.
“It affects the community, not just the school,” she said.
Mika’al Broadus, 16, attends University City High School and stated the school should remain open because of many of the programs offered. He used the Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) classes as an example.
“We had that, it was actually its own academy, and we had to shut it down and rename it something else,” he said.
West Philadelphia residents turned out to attend a community day event hosted by Dynamite Pest Control held at Malcolm X Memorial Park, despite the gloomy weather conditions.
The park has long been a favorite in West Philadelphia for those desiring to host events to unite the community.
This event was no different as the staff of Dynamite and supporting sponsors provided food, entertainment and games for both the children and adults of the neighborhood for no other reason than to give back.
“We’ve been there for 45 years and we’re the longest running family-owned and operated business on 52nd street,” said Rich Foreman of Dynamite.
Foreman said he conducts numerous career fairs at schools where he speak to students about careers, including those who aren’t particularly planning to go to college but would like to be entrepreneurs.
The community event was another way for him to reach such youth as well as to express his appreciation and love for his West Philadelphia neighborhood.
“Having grown up in West Philadelphia, I decided to try to give them a sense of hope and to provide some resources,” Foremen said.
He attended Catholic school in the area and learned to swim at the YMCA in West Philadelphia.
Resources available at the park included: information tables, where youth could learn about college opportunities, and access to free phones.
“This is just my way of giving back and we are going to do this annually...,” Foreman said.
In his planning, Foreman reached out to other local businesses in West Philadelphia, including DJ Active, a local variety store.
While children enjoyed the moon bounces, playground, and music played by DJ Active, Foreman said it was also a networking opportunity for the adults.
To help make the day happen, Foreman invited elected officials such as Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Sen. Anthony Williams and others to attend.
Chief Deputy Commissioner Dennis Lee, of the City Commissioner’s office, was on hand to talk about the importance of voting.
“We are so excited, because this is part of what brings back the city and we need that to happen,” Lee said. “Civic engagement is what it is all about.”
The 52nd street corridor has made significant improvements in recent years, according to Gregorio Cojulun Jr. president of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park.
It is Cojulun’s responsibility to orchestrate public events at the park and he swung into action when Dynamite Pest Control expressed their desire to hold a community day at the popular park.
“We have to save our future and we have a public place and a safe place for them to come out,” he said.
The park will continue its Jazz in the Park events May 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. Oldies in the Park events will begin on an undetermined date in July.
“We’re just trying to make it fun for everyone to come out here and have a good time,” Cojulun said.
The African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) and the Uhuru Movement hosted the annual flea market on Saturday at Clark Park in West Philadelphia to raise money for programs and services.
Despite cloudy weather, the market attracted people from across the city, looking for bargains, art, and music.
“Today is the second flea market of the year by the Uhuru flea market in Clark’s Park, which is an economic development project for the African People’s Education and Defense Fund,” Harris Daniels said.
According to Daniels, the APEDF is a non-profit organization with far reaching impact.
“It’s led by African people, benefiting African people inside the U.S. and around the world and its mission is to develop an institutionalized program to defend the human and civil rights of the African community,” Daniels said.
Residents of University City wait all year for the popular flea markets where they can purchase unique items.
This year, the flea market season began on April 20 with a health fair at the park, where visitors received information about health and nutrition, could participate in group exercises and instructions, and receive free health screenings.
“The Uhuru Health Fair was centered around health and economic development of the African community in particular, which we recognize in Philadelphia, just as it is around the world, bares the brunt of the economic crisis and really experiences the deepest conditions of poverty, police containment of the community, mass incarceration, and its health is affected by these conditions,” Harris said.
Harris said APEDF not only organized the flea markets to help fund economic development for its cause, but also operates a furniture store in Center City at 1220 Spruce St. and holds monthly meetings for its members, supporters and the community.
The flea markets also provide a place for merchants and consumers to meet.
“We, in the Uhuru Flea Market team, under the leadership of the APEDF are supporting their mission by organizing these flea markets, not only to bring the community together but to have a monthly venue for the African-American community, which has largely been pushed out of West Philly through the University City development and gentrification,” he said.
The Uhuru Flea Market is held each month at Clark Park. For more information about the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, call them at (727) 821-2437.
By day the Rev. Melvin Gary drives a bus and is charged with the responsibility of ensuring children arrive and return from school safely.
He is also a pastor of a local church responsible for ensuring the spiritual health and well-being of his flock.
Then there’s his art.
Gary has amassed a collection of paintings, which he has spent much of his life creating. Despite his very active lifestyle and obligations, which compete for his time and attention, Gary is a tenacious artist.
“Most of them are religious paintings, some of them are on acrylics, some done in oils, some are huge,” he said. “I have done big paintings but most of all of them are dedicated to the Lord’s work.”
Gary said he began drawing as a child and remembers doing so all of his life.
“I started drawing at a young age when I was about 5, but I was about 17 when I got my first taste of oil painting,” he said.
At 17 years old, Gary was in the Air Force and began doing Paint by Numbers and was bitten by the painting bug. He has been painting since that time.
With six brothers and two sisters, paint wasn’t a luxury that Gary’s parents could afford during his earlier years.
Gary said during his childhood, his family couldn’t afford to send him to art school or buy paints and so, he used shoe polish instead.
With old paint brushes which he would find and black and white shoe polish, Gary would create.
So where did he get his paper?
“Remember the card board that they used to put in the shirts when they came back from the cleaners? That was my drawing paper,” said Gary laughing as he reflected on his past. “My father used to get me because of that. I would get the cardboard before he could wear the shirts. I liked to sit in the window when I was a child and draw cards and stuff like that, I always liked to draw.”
Gary recalled that he and a childhood friend, who also loved to draw, would go down the basement to draw using a candle for light.
“He would hold the candle for me and I would hold the candle for him,” Gary said. “I just loved to paint.
“I went to the Art Institute of Philadelphia and graduated from there,” he added. “I studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for one summer and would someday like to go back but I had a job and had to raise a family so it’s kind of hard for me to get back in school like I did.”
After leaving the Air force, Gary drove a truck for 15 years and went to art school, and drove for SEPTA for 4 years. It was with SEPTA where he wanted to join the Graphics department where he would get a chance to use some of his art talent.
“The only way to get in there was if you knew someone on the inside,” Gary said.
He was eventually called but was told that he would have to take a huge pay cut. For a family, he couldn’t afford to do make that move.
“I kept on painting and drawing and I always figured that one day I was going to get a break and my art work would get out there; once people see my art work, I think I would be able to go for there,” he said.
Gary said what he really needs is a sponsor and that he would love to own his own graphics and printing business.
Paintings of the last supper, the Hebrew’s crossing of the Red Sea as detailed in the Bible’s book of Exodus and quite a few other Biblical themes are now a part of Gary’s creations.
“I believe that if I was able to sit down and do what I love to do, I could be more creative because you need the time to concentrate,” he said.
On Saturday May 11, many Southwest Philadelphia residents attended an exclusive women’s -only seminar designed specifically for them to discuss their issues.
The event was held at Pepper Middle School, 2901 S. 84th St., and was organized by motivational speaker Tracey L. Fisher and Dr. Carol Simmons of the International Institute for Advanced Instruction.
Fisher said The”Let Go So You Can Hold On” women only seminar was organized with one mission in mind: to empower the women in our communities.
“My purpose was to get everyone to come together and to get on the same page, to understand what was needed in society,” said Fisher.
During an interview, Fisher acknowledged that some great work is being done throughout Philadelphia but that the individuals and groups doing them are scattered.
“So what I told them was to come under one umbrella and it would be more powerful and they could get a lot more done that way,” said Fisher.
Separation, said Fisher, creates more obstacles than one unified coalition would not have to confront.
“No one would lose anything by coming under one umbrella,” said Fisher. “Everyone would keep their same mission statement, everybody keep their 501 (C) 3, the only thing they gain is power. They don’t lose anything they just gain solidarity.”
During the seminar, guests were greeted by a multitude of vendors and organizations which operated information tables where they could receive information about various services and resources available to women in the city.
Guests included Stephanie Sawyer, candidate for common pleas court, Tracie Gordon, community activist, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell among others.
Fisher said that he was most humbled by the number of people who arrived to attend the event.
“What we are really trying to do is to get Philadelphia back in shape,” said Fisher. “Right now, there are a lot of organizations out there that represent different parts of the city and they’re getting grants to do this and grants to do that but the community is worse.”
Fisher said that he would like to see some progress.
Topics discussed during the seminar included dress, lifestyle and crime as well as a host of other topics.
“I explained to the mothers that were there was that these young guys and girls who are out there committing crimes, committing murder, getting high, selling drugs, raping and doing everything else happening in the community, they don’t own a home, they don’t pay a mortgage so when they come home from doing all of that they go under somebody else’s roof, which is you all,” he said.
“Therefore you are housing clothing and feeding a rapist, murderer and drug dealer and anything else,” said Fisher to the women listening.
Fisher said that a number of women approached him after the seminar and said that he helped change their lives.
“Reality is like medicine; nobody likes the taste of medicine but it sure feels good when it runs its course,” said Fisher.
Monique Holland attended the event and greeted everyone entering the event it and said that it was a great event.
“Everyone said that it was a great presentation, and those leaving the event said that they got a lot from it,” said Holland. The menu served at the event was another thing which Holland said that the attendants expressed a fondness for.
The menu was an all vegan affair consisting of fresh foods and vegetables.
“I really enjoyed the message that he [Fisher] presented and thought that he had some profound things to say. I felt that he was really reaching out to today’s young women and the issues that they face today,” said Teresa Overton who also attended the event.
Fisher will host a men’s only seminar June 15, at 2 p.m. at Pepper Middle School.
For more information call Dr. Carol Simmons at (610) 284-6246 or Tracie L. Fisher at (267) 333-0571.