At 23, Youssef Kromah is an author, clothing designer, entrepreneur and spoken-word poet who on Friday departed the United States for a 10-day book tour that will lead him to Morocco.
During an interview prior to his departure, Kromah credited his family and faith with helping him to acheve such accomplishments, but stressed that life has not been without some hardship.
“I grew up in Southwest Philadelphia,” Kromah offered, “And, as you know, Southwest Philadelphia is very much a place of violence and poverty. Just in my youth I lost 12 of my closest friends to gun violence. And those I didn’t lose to gun violence are in prison.”
Kromah said he made a decision to not be a statistic and began seeking a positive way out of his environment.
“I found myself in this very weird place where everyone around me was deteriorating and dying or going to prison or heading down a terrible road,” Kromah recalled. “And I had to ask myself if this was a journey I wanted to take for myself.”
Kromah said he sought an outlet to his frustration with the bleak world around him. Poetry became that outlet, he said.
“It [poetry] was more of a way to save my life than an art form at the time,” Kromah said. “But later it developed into what it is now.”
Asked to describe his style of spoken-word art, Kromah used such words as “’conscious art’ — just being conscious of society,” and “‘awakening art’ — whatever brings people to Meta-cognition where they could acknowledge who they are, where they are presently and where they are going.”
Kromah has traveled to a number of countries as an entrepreneur, poet and motivational speaker, effectively escaping the fate of his peers.
Family, faith and history played a big part in his personal liberation and development, Kromah said, while his spirituality kept him rooted, grounded and away from some dangers of the streets.
“I grew up studying the Christian and Islamic faiths,” he said. “My mother’s side of the family were Christian and many of her family were deacons, pastors and such; my father’s side of the family were all Muslim, such as Imams and preachers.”
Kromah later adopted Islam as his faith.
“That [the practice of Islam] was really the grounding point for me and how I interpreted the world and the things that were happening within and around me,” he said.
His strict family, which Kromah said supported him, was another life-sustaining influence. His family hails from West Africa, and Kromah is the middle child of 13 siblings.
“I had a mother and father who were both very diligent in my life. In fact,” he said. “I was the only child on my block that was raised with a father in the household, and so I am very grateful for having my parents in my life.”
In December, Kromah released his latest book “Mawadah: The Art of Interlocking Souls Vol. 1.” Souls is “a spiritual guide to cultivating love of God, love of self and love of others through predestined connections of the soul.”
Kromah will conclude his 10-day book tour at the University of Morocco on March 9. His books are available on Amazon.com.
A dozen neighborhood youth were rounded up and taken to the 12th Police District at 65th and Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia on Wednesday.
They weren’t under arrest or being detained for questioning. The youth were guests of the district’s Cops N Kids program.
The Cops N Kids program is an initiative designed help neighborhood youth view police as allies. Once there the children had an opportunity to meet with local officers and learn about the law and the work of police officers in their communities.
“We are having the Cops N Kids program to bridge the gap between the kids and police officers,” said 12th Police District’s community relations officer Joseph Young.
He said several Cops N Kids sessions were held previously.
“We know that there is a lot of violence with our young people, and we want them to know that we are their friends and not their enemies,” Young said.
He noted the district wanted the youth to know that they could feel free to talk to a police officer at any time and about anything.
The youth ranged from ages 11 to 17 and were recommended by parents, representatives of local organizations, educators and other community stakeholders. Some of the children were considered at-risk and have already shown signs of trouble, and a few have already had brushes with the law.
During the event the youth watched a video in which several scenarios were depicted. In one, a neighborhood kid was shoplifting, and the video showed how even those who were with the perpetrator yet not actively a part of the crime could face legal ramifications.
The goal was to get youth to think about not only their actions but those with whom they associate and to choose their friends and activities wisely.
“Every day we know youth are confronted by police officers,” Young said. “And we want them to know how to act when confronted by a police officer, not to get smart or talk trash. But if they cooperate things should be ok.”
Young, a popular officer in the Southwest community among both children and adults, has received awards and recognition from various groups and organizations because of his work in the community.
“It’s nice helping these young people out, and we have other programs we would like to organize for them,” he said.
Young said he would like to bring more children to the district and invite judges, doctors and other professionals to speak to the children and even institute a program to help them prepare for the job readiness program once they are of age.
On hand during the event was Capt. John Moroney who, like Young, can often be seen in the community walking the streets, hosting events for residents and attending meetings of neighborhood groups and organizations.
“Our officers are volunteering their time to work with children, male and female, which we have had some indication whether from parents or from schools, that they may be walking into a gray area,” Moroney said.
Members of Ebenezer Baptist Church at 2259 N. 10th St. in North Philadelphia celebrated its 130th anniversary during a special service Sunday.
Churchgoers, some of whom have attended Ebenezer throughout all or most of their lives, gathered at the church where they joined in the festivities which included food, fellowship and worship.
The theme for the anniversary was “Celebrating and sharing the fruits and seeds of love God has planted in us,” taken from Matthew 16:18.
“God has truly been blessing Ebenezer,”said the Rev. John L. Payne, who has been pastor of the church for eight years. “We’ve done some great things.”
According to the Church’s history, the church was founded in 1884 and incorporated in 1886.
It was at the home of Willis Byrd, 1328 Rodman St., where the first meeting was held of what would become Ebenezer Baptist. Later the group of some 85 members acquired a building on 12th and South streets.
Payne says that the church has changed locations several times but has been at its current location for several years.
In 1923 the church found its premises could no longer hold the expanding membership, and a larger place of worship was necessary to accommodate it. In 1923, under the leadership of Rev. Alexander Childs, Ebenezer’s fourth pastor, the church moved to 10th Street near Girard Avenue.
“In this eight-year period, God has allowed us to renovate our annex, to put ramps outside for our disabled and those who have difficulties [walking]. We just finished renovating our kitchen, and so we have a new kitchen where we are serving,” said Payne.
Other renovations are planned for the church as well.
“I’m truly blessed that God has allowed me to serve here,” Payne said. “It has truly been a joy.”
With some 26 different ministries, Payne acknowledges that teamwork is an essential ingredient for the success of the church, and he credits the church’s Board of Trustees and Deacon’s Board with working together to ensure optimal functioning.
“We know that it’s not just one person, but that it’s collective. As always there have been some bumps in the road but they have been little bumps. They haven’t been huge mountains,” Payne said.
Deacon Charles Williams chaired the 130th church anniversary event and has been a member since the 1960s.
“It’s the love of the people that got me here at first, but later it was the love of the Lord which kept me here,” Williams said.
Williams said that Ebenezer is a family-oriented church that loves everyone.
It was the shared commitment of the members which Williams says helped to make the planning of the 130th anniversary possible.
“It was easy,” Williams said. “We work well together, and we had ideas and talked them over. Ebenezer is a progressive church, and we have a lot of activities going on at all times.”
Because of these activities, the members have learned to coordinate and work in unison.
“This is the best church in the world,” said Williams. “The fellowship, the love that we have for each other, we’re smaller than some churches and larger than others, but the camaraderie here, you can’t be it.”
Dominique Jones, 27, is director of Ebenezer’s Youth Department and has attended the church all of her life.
“My grandmother went here, my mother went here, I go here and we have always been active in the church,” Jones said.
“My mother always taught me that you plant roots, you stay and you grow; this is my covering and this is where God has called me to be here for this moment,” she said. “So I’m here, and I’m working and thanking God for the opportunity.”
Jones said that one of the things that kept her in the church was that Ebenezer did the work of the Lord.
“From feeding the homeless during our turkey drives every year for Thanksgiving and we are always doing work with the kids from our rap sessions, taking them to conferences and holding conferences here. We are always doing the work of the Lord and that is what keeps us here.”
Alverta E. Sims has been the church secretary for Ebenezer Baptist since 1970 and has been a member since 1944.
“I joined the church when I was 13 years old,” she said. “Ebenezer is an institution of love, and we have experienced some good and some bad.”
Sims says it was the church’s faith and dependence of God which has allowed it to endure for so long. Sims has seen many of these changes with her own eyes.
One of the highlights of the church’s activities was the renovation of the church in 1959, when Ebenezer renovated its main sanctuary, said Sims.
“We didn’t know what it was going to look like, but we trusted God and it was beautiful,” she said. “The members rallied around the leaders of the church and we did what we were asked to do.”
Sims said that another highlight of the church was the renovation of the annex with its handicapped-accessible ramp and handicapped-accessible bathroom.
Then there were also some lows.
“The lows were when we had a disruption in leadership,” Sims said. “That is always a low for everybody; when something goes wrong, and things are not smooth and not continuously flowing. That’s a low point.”
These lows consisted of disagreements with prior pastors within the church’s history. In fact, one former pastor of Ebenezer, the Rev. Matthew C. Haskell, Sr., was asked to leave the church and did so in June of 1998, taking, according to the church history, a handful of members with him.
There was a moment of declining membership following that period, but the church has recovered and continues to grow.
“We have a wonderful person in Pastor Payne. He exemplifies love and he has time to spend with anybody from the youngest to the oldest and all of those in between,” Sims said.
So what has allowed Ebenezer to last for 130 years and make it distinctive in the community?
“I think it’s because we are focused on serving the people where God planted the church,” Payne said. “We don’t want to get out of our calling. God planted Ebenezer here for a reason, and we don’t want to get caught up doing external work and not serving the community.”
Women from around the city gathered at St. Georges St. Barnabas Episcopal Church at 520 S. 61st street in West Philadelphia Saturday to attend the church’s Fourth Annual Prayer Breakfast.
The theme of the event was “The Empowerment of Women Though Christ,” and the women gathered enjoyed a continental breakfast, live entertainment and words of encouragement from guest speaker Rev. Dr. Janet Sturdivant, a presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“A lot of times we really live beneath what we can do because we are stuck. We are stuck in the past, we are stuck by our economic [circumstances], we are stuck by where we live,” said Sturdivant when asked about her message to the women gathered to hear her speak.
“Everybody is not going to be wealthy,” she said. “Everyone is not going to have the best college education or the best job. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t live. And I really believe that we are not always living our best life.”
She said the way to get unstuck, to get empowered, was Jesus Christ.
The Church was another resource in which members of the community could turn to for resources, help and assistance getting unstuck, according to Sturdivant.
“The church has always been, for our community, a place of refuge and hope,” she said. “In our community, when people get into trouble, the first place they go is the church; when people have a need the first place they go is the church.”
While some communities might or might not attend church solely for worship and fellowship, Sturdivant said the church plays a much greater role among African Americans.
“The Church always stood up for you. The church always had your voice, the church always had your back; I mean that is what the church has always meant to us.”
Patricia Bell chairs the Annual Prayer Breakfast and said that the event was held each year during Black History Month. Bell says that while the event has traditionally focused on the empowerment of women, the church is contemplating extending it to men.
“We are thinking of expanding it to include men next year because it really is a partnership, and we really need to encourage some of our young women to seek out the better values in the young men,” said Bell.
The program began with a prayer by Evangelist Terry Blunden and was followed by a dance performance by the Mt. Pisgah Mime Ensemble of Mt. Pisgah Episcopal Church.
“We want our women to know and to feel that we are not out here to tear them down, that doesn’t really serve a purpose,” said Bell. “We want to let the women, old and young, know that when all else fails God is definitely there for them.”
Elaine Bell, the mother of Patricia Bell, says that she had attended the church since the 1940’s but was unsure of the exact date.
“I was here when it was a white church and had a white minister and all of the members were white,” said Bell.
Bell, who lives on Walnut Street, said she first joined the church because it was close to her home as well as her daughter’s school and was therefore easily accessible.
Both of them stayed.
Bell encouraged women to hold their heads high and push on. Bell said that young women today need to cultivate unity and learn to work together for the betterment of all.
“We need to encourage our young people to go into things, whatever their endeavors are to go into them and not be afraid and not hold back,” said Bell.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Philadelphia attended the historic Cliveden House at 6401 Germantown Ave. to speak on the topic “Bishop Richard Allen’s Living Legacy in American History.”
The lecture was a part of the Cliveden Conversations, a series of conversations held at the home of the late Benjamin Chew, a slaveholder and diplomat attorney who along with his extensive property, Richard Allen was considered among them.
“I was born in the year of our Lord 1760, on Feb. 14, a slave to Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia,” wrote Allen in his autobiography.
Tyler shared with the small crowd about Allen’s legacy, the history of the AME church and the important role that church has played throughout its existence.
“What makes the AME church so special in my opinion is that it is one of the few places where black people had their own space,” Tyler said.
According to Tyler, AME churches were not only used for worship but also for organizing of the black community.
“The Underground railroad meetings were held in the church; talks about abolition were held in the church; in the 1960’s civil rights protestors met in the church so this place is important to who we are,” Tyler said.
The role of the AME churches as well as other faith based facilities should be reclaimed Tyler said.
“We need to reclaim these sacred places not only for religious activities but also for the social activities that are also reflective of our faith.”
David Young is the executive director of the Cliveden House and says that the conversations on its premises and open to the community serve as a means to bring people together to discuss important issues of race, history and memory.
“In historic places such as Germantown and Philadelphia, we see things but we don’t often see them together and that includes our past, our history,” Young said.
This, says Young, makes it difficult to create a shared history even among next door neighbors.
“It’s an opportunity to use our ongoing research to engage the community, to look at things from a different perspective. History depends upon where you are standing,” Young said.
The community discussions held at the Cliveden House could, says Young, inspire hope and a sense of community that could have a marked effect on our lives.
“That energy is what gives us hope that we could build a better vocabulary to overcome things like what happen to Jordon Davis or Trayvon Martin in Florida and it can challenge some of these assumptions that we have if we don’t talk to one another.”
The Cliveden conversation program allow for people to be heard and to share and perhaps come to appreciate one another’s differences said Young.
The Cliveden Conversation Program has conducted discussions that are open to the community since 2010.
“The Cliveden Conversations allow us to explore things together that we might not otherwise. History is a way to understanding and if we can find history together maybe we can build a shared history,” said Young.
Cliveden House in Germantown was one of several properties owned by the Chew family in the 1700s in which slaves were kept. The Chews are said to be one of the largest slave owners in the state.
Among the slaves was Richard Allen who eventually acquired his freedom and has gone on to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1794 serving as its first bishop.