Divine Changes president Joan Preston of West Oak Lane remembers the first Champions for the Extraordinary Excellence Award program the non-profit hosted recently. It took so much work that she and her committee were skeptical about doing it again.
After the ceremony Mayor Michael Nutter encouraged Preston to keep the initiative going.
Consequently, another roster of honorees was celebrated by the non-profit group recently. The awards ceremony was held at the Shiloh’s Omega Banquet Room, 1500 Master St. in North Philadelphia last Saturday.
This year’s honorees were members of Concerned Black Men Stephen Lyles of Mount Airy, James Newton of Pottsgrove, Harvey Crudup of Cheltenham and Hank Wilson. Also honored was Northwest CommUnity Coalition for Youth or NCCY chair Isabella Fitzgerald of West Oak Lane and Marian Anderson House founder Blanche Burton-Lyles of South Philadelphia.
Each honoree received several awards. These included citations from Gov. Tom Corbett, Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady and a City Council honor sponsored by Councilwoman Marian Tasco. They also received the Divine Change trophy and a City of Philadelphia paperweight courtesy of the mayor’s office.
The program opened with the Rev. Marc McCoy’s introduction of the mistress of ceremonies, the Rev. Roslyn Davis. The Rev. W. Joe Harvey gave the invocation before Deacon Gary Hunter delivered the biblical reading.
“We members of Divine Change are glad to honor those gathered here today,” said the Rev. Deborah Murgerson in the welcome address.
Minister Raymond DeShields delivered his a capella interpretation of “Faith” by Vanessa Bell Armstrong. His selection was well received by the largely Northwest Philadelphia audience before Harvey blessed the food.
Wilson spoke for CBM members in accepting their awards. He shared his own personal anecdote about once being a juvenile delinquent. He said it was meeting former CBM chairman Marq Temple of Mount Airy that changed his life.
In her remarks Fitzgerald thanked Preston, the Divine Change board, and her own family who were gathered at one of the tables. She singled out her two sons Raymond and Derek who she called “my inspiration.”
“This is truly an honor,” said Burton-Lyles as she accepted her awards. “Marian Anderson was a humble and unbelievable person. She saw something in me as a pianist and encouraged me. She was a woman of grace. When I was growing up I was always around good manners. I feel that good manners are always in order. Marian Anderson represented this.”
Kerri Conner of Cheltenham thought she understood what it was like for a daughter to learn that her mother had breast cancer. The now 33-year old Conner learned that her mother, Anita Conner, had cancer almost a decade ago. Yet when she herself was diagnosed with the disease she found that explaining the disease to her own preschool daughter, Madison, was challenging.
Since Kerri Conner could not find a book on the subject, being the proactive accountant that she is, she chose to write her own book. That’s when “My Mommy Has Breast Cancer, But She Is Ok!” was born. The publication, illustrated by Roc Upchurch and Maureek Graham, tells the story of Maddie’s journey through seeing her mother’s tears and fatigue to consoling another youngster whose mother has breast cancer.
“There was just nothing out there that showed images to help me to explain to my daughter what I was going through,” said Kerri Conner. “I wanted to do a book for African-American children because African-American women die of the disease at a much higher rate than any other ethnic group.
“After I was diagnosed two more women at my daughter’s day care were also diagnosed. What I tried to do in this book is write something inspirational. I (toyed) with the title a lot but I thought just being direct would be encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes people think I’m writing about my experience with my mother, but it’s really about a tool I used to tell my own daughter,” Kerri Conner said.
The book has been well received since its initial publication in February of last year. Over the past year Kerri Conner has had book signings at the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, the First African Baptist Church, and Monumental Baptist Church. She’s also done readings followed by signing at the YMCAs in both Abington and North Philadelphia. Many women’s organizations and religious groups have asked her to share her breast cancer survival testimony as well as her experience penning the book.
What Kerri Conner reveals at these showcases is that for her breast cancer has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Though she readily admitted that she went through the same stages of fear and anxiety as anyone with cancer, it has also enriched her life.
“I have become more passionate,” said Kerri Conner. “Cancer has really changed my life for the better. As a CPA I was in a very stressful occupation. Sometimes under stress you take things for granted. Now I look at life differently. I cherish every single day. Before I was just running, running, running. Now I really do take the time to smell the roses.
“I know there are many mothers, grandmothers and aunts who had breast cancer and are not able to do that. So even if it rains I don’t get upset. I no longer sweat the small stuff. I am just blessed to be able to live another day. That’s why I had to write this book about my journey,” Kerri Conner said.
Now that November is here many organizations in the Northwest Philadelphia and Lower Montgomery County areas are planning their pre-Thanksgiving fundraisers. This is certainly the case over at the St. Therese Church in Mount Airy. The St. Therese Men’s Association will be raising money for its youth and other parish activities at its “Annual Pre-Thanksgiving Jazz Night” to be held in Maria Hall, Upsal and Anderson streets on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 8 p.m. to midnight.
“We always try to find a way to bring people together to enjoy themselves while raising monies for a good cause,” said Arnold Hall, a member of the St. Therese Men’s Association. “So this year we are having Sonny Jones, Warren Wimberly, Vince Stitt, Tony Wyatt and singer Valerie Lippford. It’s BYOB and BYOF cabaret style and one can even win a turkey or basket of cheer.”
Tickets for the Pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser are $20. They can be obtained by contacting Hall at 215-549-1297 or Bill Thompson at 267-250-1872.
Over in nearby Dresher the New Life Presbyterian Church will hold another fundraising event. The Annual Fundraising Banquet will mark the 70th anniversary of the CLC Ministries International. It will be held at the church located at 2015 S. Limekiln Pike in Dresher on Friday, Nov. 18. Dinner will begin at 7 p.m. after the silent auction. For ticket information call 215-542-1242.
Also on Friday night the Bobbie Carter Foundation will hold its 10th anniversary celebration. With the theme “Jazzin’ 4 Diabetes” there will be dinner and live music as well as an awards ceremony. This will take place at the Park Avenue Banquet Hall, 4942 Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia from 7 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained by calling Yanina Carter at 856-228-5040.
“We are excited about the Oldies But Goodies Brunch that promises to be fun,” said Sandi Brown of the AKA Omega Omega chapter event whose proceeds will benefit the group’s Youth Empowerment Programs. “We’d love to have all can join us to eat, dance and just have a good time while supporting our mentoring program and Annual HBCU 2012 tour.”
This even will be held at the Knowlton Mansion, 8001 Verree Road in Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. There will be a full buffet, five decades of music, line dancing and more. Tickets can be obtained from Brown by calling 215-223-1755.
Finally, the “Honour to Whom Honour” Champions for the Extraordinary Excellence Award Program will honor Concerned Black Men, Blanche Burton Lyles and Isabella V. Fitzgerald at their annual dinner. This will be held at the Shiloh Omega Banquet Room, 15th and Master Streets in North Philadelphia on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 and can be obtained by calling 267-608-0182.
The cultural and performing arts are taking center stage in Germantown and Mount Airy as autumn culminates. This was evident at the “Artists’ Roundtable” hosted by the Bread and Cup Coffeehouse recently. The event was held at the First Presbyterian Church, 35 W. Chelten Ave. on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.
The roundtable drew musicians, actors, visual artists, graphic designers, writers, photographers and other artists to participate. It is the outgrowth of the Germantown Community Connection’s Classic Town Germantown Team, according to the Rev. Kevin L. Porter, one of the coordinators of this ongoing event.
“This is an (opportunity) for artists to network with one another,” Porter said. “The main item on the agenda was to hear about a proposed arts district for Germantown. The input of Germantown artists is needed to make sure the boundaries and functioning of a district meet the needs of the neighborhoods’ artists as well as maximize our community’s profile as a great place to live, work, play and visit.”
Yet this is not the only event to draw local Northwest Philadelphia artists. The Black Writers Museum will be holding its “Autumn Jazz Reception and Fundraiser” featuring the Dahi Divine Legacy Quintet.
This benefit will be held at the new 7165 Lounge (formerly North by Northwest) located at 7165 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy on Friday, Nov. 25 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person or $60 for couples.
“We want the community to please stop in and share a moment while supporting an institution that keeps Black literature alive,” said Supreme D. Dow, executive director of the Black Writers Museum. This non-profit venue is located at 23 W. Maplewood Ave. in the heart of Germantown.
“All proceeds benefit the fall literary programs. They will also benefit the new Ida B. Wells Library Resource Center and Computer Lab,” Dow said. For ticket information call (267) 297-3078.
Finally, Gregory Underwood will be headliner for the third “Sweet Spirits II” coffee cabaret fundraising event. This will be held at the Germantown Theatre Centre, 4821 Germantown Ave. on Friday, Dec. 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Proceeds will go to the non-profit FreshVisions Youth Theatre. The donation for the show is $10.
“We welcome Gregory Underwood who has been on exhibition at the Philadelphia Free Library’s main branch for months,” said Canada Brown, the event’s coordinator. “He will rock and roll with you, rhythm and blues you, as only he can. You don’t want to miss this performer.”
Also on the bill will be Nadir Rajul, the founder of Majestic Percussionist performing along with choreographer Carmen Butler and Brown. Butler teaches dance at the FreshVisions Youth Theatre. Making her debut will be local spoken word artist Cheryl Lee. For ticket information contact Brown at (215) 843-5486.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz recently presented the solution to saving the newspaper and publishing industry while creating a new generation of quality writers.
He recommended parents and educators emphasize reading — noting that aspiring authors should also read as the primary way to hone their craft.
This was part of Diaz’s message when he appeared at the Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Writers Conference in Blue Bell on Saturday.
Many from the Northwest Philadelphia and Lower Montgomery County area were on hand to hear the New York native and author of books such as “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woo” and “Drown.”
Attendees came to get tips from the award-winning author who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
Diaz pointed out the context of one’s writing is imperative. He noted the “first matrix” is to keep one’s work focused on what is different about the world.
He stressed that writers should not be isolated from others writing from a purely fantastic perspective. He said that at some point the writer must interact with others because it is through relationships that one learns the meaning of life.
“Most people do think that writers need to write more to get better,” Diaz said. “Reading forces you to reach out to others. It’s important that you have ties to the community so that you are not isolated. Writers should get together.”
Diaz said when he teaches he encourages aspiring writers to read more. He feels educators do not encourage their students to read enough and this is why this country is producing weak writers.
“There is no substitute for doing and there is no substitute for reading,” he said.
For Calvin Jones of Northwest Philadelphia it was just exciting to shake the hands of a writer who has earned the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
He was among those who lined up in the auditorium to get Diaz’s “John Hancock” on his copy of one of the author’s books.
“I have been studying writing and writers for a long time and listening to him talk about life was inspiring,” Jones said. “He’s going to make me keep reading so I can write better.”
According to Linda Murdock of Elkins Park, what grabbed her attention was the emphases on reading.
“As someone who wants to become a writer I really appreciated when he said you can’t understand your characters or people in your writings without relationships,” she said. “Even though I would not say that he is a (religious) person, I would say that he does meditate in a spiritual way. I heard that he understands that we have a creator and that it is from the creator that we get our gifts. Also many of his (anecdotes) had spiritual references and I appreciated that.”
Non-profit community organizations are using the talents of local youngsters and adults to raise needed funds during this holiday season. That's certainly the case at the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church in Mount Airy.
Pianoworks students will be performing at the church located on Upsal and Anderson streets on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. There will be a freewill offering.
The group of students just raised $600 at their “88 Black & White Keys: A Music Journey” recital last September. Proceeds from that concert went to the non-profit FreshVisions Youth Theatre in Germantown.
Earlier this year they raised another $250 for the St. Therese Church in a winter recital. “It is really great to perform and raise monies for good causes,” said Patrick Houston, one of Pianoworks advanced students.
Making her recital debut at this Saturday’s program will be 5-year-old Madison Matchett of Cheltenham. Also performing are 18-year-old Patrick Houston of Frankford, 14-year-old Norman Williams of Mount Airy and his 12-year-old sister Natalie, and 8-year-old Mehki Lewis of West Oak Lane.
In addition, 12-year-old David Gallashaw of West Oak Lane and his 12-year-old cousin Marrayia Herring, Amy Ouattara of East Oak Lane, 8-year-old Jasmyn Lopez and her 5-year-old sister Jayla Wilks, 14-year-old Lauren Gonzalez of Mount Airy, 13-year-old Cimone Bates of West Oak Lane, and 15-year-old Shauna Leonard of Germantown will be performing.
It was time for the “Sweet Spirit II” cultural fundraising showcase at the Germantown Theatre Centre, 4821 Germantown Ave. on Friday, Dec. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. Gregory Underwood, the brother of LaBelle’s Veronica Underwood, was the headliner.
Also on the bill were Nadir Rajul known as “Majestic Percussionist”, choreographer Carmen Butler, and spoken word artist Cheryl Lee.
“I think it is excellent to have this kind of event in the community,” said Sandra Anderson-Brown of Mount Airy. “This is my first time coming to a Sweet Spirit fundraiser. It was very good. I really enjoyed Cheryl Lee’s poetry, the African dancing, and the music. You can’t beat all this talent for $7.”
Northwest Philadelphia is all lit up for the holiday season. Whether one takes a trek along Wadsworth Avenue in the Cedarbrook section of Mount Airy, Germantown Avenue’s upper corridor in the heart of Mount Airy, or Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane, one will find bright lights and a decorated Christmas tree to attract shoppers and bring residents into the spirit.
Official tree lightings in the area took place in early December. First, the Third Annual “Holiday Lighting Ceremony” presented by State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker of Mount Airy was held on the 1500 block of Wadsworth Avenue on Friday, Dec. 2 from 5 to 6 p.m. On hand were Christmas carolers, face painters, and Santa Claus ready to take pictures with area youngsters.
“We celebrated the beautification of our community during this ceremony,” she said. “It’s a celebration of the Wadsworth Avenue commercial corridor. It has undergone much improvement. So, we are proud to be able to have this event.”
The tree lighting came on the heels of Parker’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner that drew hundreds of older adults from the community to the Upper Room Missionary Baptist Church in West Oak Lane on Tuesday, Nov. 22. The Dec. 2 event targeted young families with children. “We want to recognize those families right in our community,” Parker said.
A few blocks away on Germantown Avenue the newer William Allen Plaza also celebrated the holiday season with a “Tree Lighting” on Friday, Dec. 2. This was held on the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia campus, 7301 Germantown Ave. at 6 p.m. The plaza is located next to the Schaeffer-Ashmead chapel on the southwest corner of the campus adjacent to The Brossman Center.
This event featured caroling, refreshments, the Salvation Army Brass Ensemble, and a toy drive. This was a prelude to the seminary’s “Advent Vespers” program held at their chapel on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
For Rosalyn Brooks of Mount Airy both tree lightings gave her a chance to bring her niece and nephews out for the evening. She said that when she heard about the Wadsworth Avenue event she decided since it started earlier she would take the children to get their faces painted and photographs with Santa before heading over to Germantown Avenue which is closer to where she lives.
“This was just a wonderful experience all around,” Brooks said. “To have all these programs in the neighborhood is a blessing. The trees will be up until the New Year. We don’t have to go downtown to Center City to see lights and stores lit up. I think it’s great.”
“Transforming Inner-City Education” was the theme of this year’s 14th Annual Gesu Symposium held in North Philadelphia recently.
Though the event took place on Election Day at the school at 1700 W. Thompson St., one can now watch portions of this annual event on the school’s Web site.
This year’s panelists included MSNBC’s Joseph Watkins, Gesu school president Bryan Carter, Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia CEO David Hardy, Cristo Rey Network president Robert J. Birdsell, and St. Joseph’s University sociology professor Maria Kefalas.
“There are scores of young people who will go prison if they do not make it as students first,” said Watkins at the conference. “Our of 20 inner-city kindergartners, only two will go to college. This is unacceptable. Before we lose another generation we must have new solutions and new ideas.”
Carter concurred. As CEO of the Catholic elementary school that draws students from North and Northwest Philadelphia he is well aware of these statistics.
Despite the odds he was able to share how Gesu is able to beat the odds by providing a quality education that places students on the path to high school graduation and higher education.
He pointed to his own personal story of what it took to lay a firm foundation. He credited his Catholic grade school education, his Jesuit high school experiences, and his higher education as the keys. He said that despite the fact that he was reared in a single parent urban household he was able to overcome the odds.
“At Gesu we have shared responsibility, a supportive system, dedicated faculty and counselors and innovative programs,” Carter said. “We have to get it right at the grade school level in order for our children to succeed.”
Birdsell said by combining a college preparatory curriculum with corporate work-study it has improved the academic prowess of the student body at the Cristo Rey Network.
He noted when students develop marketable skills and a strong work ethic early on it helps them to become better students.
“Through our programs, inner city children see a world they were never exposed to and gain a sense of responsibility,” Birdsell said. “This is a business proposition that’s a win-win for both the companies and the youngsters.”