Broadnax and Serrano, 1800 N. 4th Street.
Ask Alberto Serrano about being a block captain and he immediately begins to praise his newest neighbor, Sarita Broadnax. Sarita moved to the block four months ago after a fire destroyed her family’s former home on North 6th St. Alberto has been living here for 38 years, a witness to a changing neighborhood. He watched the iconic Stetson factory clock tower burn to the ground in 1980. When drugs dealers invaded and threatened his neighborhood, he organized a town watch. Eventually, he says, “we got them out of the neighborhood.”
The 1800 block of N. 4th Street has only eight occupied homes on the west side of the street. Windowless warehouses and chain-linked fences surround the sparsely populated block. Large abandoned lots are misused as dumping grounds. After serving as the block captain for ten years, you can tell that Alberto, who has been on disability since surviving a helicopter crash as a soldier, finds the physical tasks of being a block captain more difficult. At one time, he was a dedicated volunteer for the Philadelphia Food Bank and organized parties for children. Now he becomes short of breath walking the length of his street.
The arrival of Sarita, who has lived in South Kensington her adult life, raised seven kids here, and volunteered as a block captain for each of the Philadelphia Housing Authority homes in which she has lived, has unlocked something. A seed perhaps.
Already they are expecting a donation of six trees from South Kensington Community Partners that they will plant on their treeless street in September. In her first month on the block, Sarita, identified two large empty lots just south of their row of homes that needed to be cleaned. She, with her children and grandchildren (she has 30) as well has her neighbors, collected dozens of bags of trash and organic material during the city-wide cleanup in April. Sarita was able to use one of the cleaned lots to be a distribution point for Philadelphia’s summer meal program, where she fed 25 kids each weekday, then organized football games and arts activities in the lot after lunch.
Alberto calls Sarita his co-captain, but Sarita is still the block captain of the 1500 block of N. 6th Street. Not surprisingly, her old neighbors want her to move back. But Sarita thinks she will stay on N. 4th Street, much to the delight of Alberto Serrano.