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Urban Creators Start Summer With “Hoodstock”

hoodstockN. 15th St. & Susquehanna Ave.

I highly recommend checking out Hoodstock out tomorrow in North Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Urban Creators are doing incredible work.

There will be food, music and art. The Urban Creators will celebrate the grand opening of their new “Defend Our Future” community garden as well as the 10th Anniversary of Tree House Books. There will be an all-day basketball tournament and a screening of the 16th and Philly documentary about the history and legacy of “one of the greatest playground basketball leagues in history,” according to the trailer.

Isabelle describes the aquaponics process to Dayuna Broggins and Kanirrah Nelson, two visitors to the Urban Creators community farm. Photo by Lori Waselchuk. 2014

Isabelle describes the aquaponics process to Dayuna Broggins and Kanirrah Nelson, two visitors to the Urban Creators community farm. Photo by Lori Waselchuk. 2014

 

Chester Williams

Reverend Chester Williams stands in the parking lot of the closed Bottom Dollar store, which was the only grocery store in the Chew-Belfield neighborhood. Williams has been persistently reaching out to the new owners of the store, Aldi, to try to get them to reopen the store.

Rev. Chester Williams stands in the parking lot of the closed Bottom Dollar store, the only grocery store in his neighborhood. Williams is persistently reaching out to the new owners of the store, Aldi, to try to get them to reopen.

Rev. Chester Williams – 6200 Chew Avenue

Reverend Chester Williams places a green washcloth on his head for protection from the hot sun. He just finished leading a two-hour volunteer cleanup crew on Chew Avenue and is still wearing his orange safety vest. The 68-year-old block captain looks worried as he stands in the parking lot of the shuttered Bottom Dollar Food store on the corner of Chew and E. Washington Lane in Germantown.

Last November, Bottom Dollar Food’s parent company, the Delhaize Group, sold its 66 stores in Pennsylvania to ALDI, Inc, leaving the Chew-Belfield neighborhood without a grocery store. “This is a hardship for the people,” said Williams. “Now they have to travel several miles to buy groceries. Some people just can’t travel. And many can’t afford the prices at the corner stores.”

Williams is campaigning for Aldi to reopen the store. He calls and writes letters to Aldi representatives regularly. He also lobbies his city councilor, Cindy Bass, advocating for a grocery store to reopen in the neighborhood. “I want to keep it fresh in their minds,” says Williams.

According to reports, Aldi will reopen several Philadelphia stores in 2015, but the Chew Avenue store will not be one of them. Williams is also worried about the property becoming derelict and dangerous. When there is litter, he picks it up. When graffiti appears on the building’s walls, he calls the city to clean it.

Williams is a highly visible and industrious community leader. He is the founder of the Chew/Belfield Neighborhood Association and Democratic committee leader for the 59th ward. His face appears on buses and trash bins throughout this city, a featured as a hero in the city’s UnLitterUs campaign.

Williams labors for economic justice in Philadelphia and will keep pushing for essential resources for his community. “I just have to keep praying and keep calling,” he says.

Reverend Chester Williams leads a monthly meeting of block captains from the Chew/Belfield neighborhood in his driveway. Photo by Lori Waselchuk

Rev. Chester Williams leads a monthly meeting of block captains from the Chew/Belfield neighborhood in his driveway.

Sigrid Craig – Mother of Philadelphia Block Captains

Sigrid Craig, the founder of the "Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up" campaign -- initiated an urban environmental partnership between the City of Philadelphia and its residents. (Photographer and date unknown. The photo is part of the PMBC archive)
Sigrid Craig, the founder of the “Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up” campaign — initiated an urban environmental partnership between the City of Philadelphia and its residents. (Photographer and date unknown. The photo is part of the PMBC archive)

In honor of Mother’s Day…

In 1938, Sigrid Craig saw a woman throw garbage out of a third-floor window into the yard below. In an interview years later, Craig recalled her response. “I had heard about big cities being filthy, but I said, ‘This isn’t going on here,’ and I started a committee.”

Craig organized the Better Philadelphia Committee, a group of community activists, to visit as many blocks as they could and designate a single person on each block to coordinate cleanups and beautification projects. Craig would help organize house meetings to publicize their campaign, which evolved into the Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign.

A house meeting in September, 1956 for the "Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up" campaign. The photo is from the PMBC archive. Unfortunately, the name of the block captain, the location and residents are not known.  (Photographer is unknown)

A house meeting in September, 1956 for the “Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up” campaign. The photo is from the PMBC archive. Unfortunately, the name of the block captain, the location and residents are not known. (Photographer is unknown)

Former Mayor Edward Rendell described the official reaction to Craig’s door-to-door crusade in a speech delivered to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Initially, her unstructured and open call for cleanliness was met with disdain. However, Mrs. Craig was able to organize a small group of concerned citizens to champion her cause and join her in urging local government to develop a workable solution.”

Craig, who was also called Mrs. Philadelphia, had a no-nonsense reputation.  “I can get tough when I have to,” her obituary quoted her as saying. “And since I’m not paid, I can be as nasty as I want, but I rarely have to be.”

By the mid-sixties, Philadelphia Streets Department took over Craig’s committee and renamed it the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee. By then, Craig’s committee had registered 3,000 block captains to participate in semi-annual clean-ups.

Street cleaning trucks flush Broad Street with a new type of foaming detergent, as the Department of Streets brought in the City's annual Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign. Shown in photo P701156 are, from left: Leo K. Gallen, Chief of the Department of Street Cleaning; Mayor Bernard Samuel, Mrs. Walter Craig and C.P. Jarden, co-chair of clean-up week. (Photo by Joseph J. Conley, taken May 23, 1950 and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. )

Street cleaning trucks flush Broad Street with a new type of foaming detergent, as the Department of Streets brought in the City’s annual Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign. Shown in photo P701156 are, from left: Leo K. Gallen, Chief of the Department of Street Cleaning; Mayor Bernard Samuel, Mrs. Walter Craig and C.P. Jarden, co-chair of clean-up week. (Photo by Joseph J. Conley, taken May 23, 1950 and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. )

Sigrid Craig died in 1988. She was 97 years old.  Dawn Woods, PMBC Administrator, never met her, but strives to carry on Craig’s legacy. Woods believes that clean streets create a higher quality of life for Philadelphians.  Today there are 6,600 registered block captains. Woods says, “I believe that the crime rate and some of the issues that we have in our neighborhoods would be less if we could get everybody to participate in at least cleaning and loving where they live.”

 

Rena Graves

photo by Mitch Borden

photo by Mitch Borden

94 and ‘Working, As Usual’

Deacon Rena Graves wants you to vote. If you live in her Germantown neighborhood, she may have called you to invite you to attend  the “All Candidates Forum” tonight at 6pm in the Wissahickon Charter School gymnasium. And if Graves convinced you to attend the event, she will greet you and serve you some supper before the forum begins.

“It’s important for people to get out to vote,” says Graves. “I’ll be there. Working, as usual.”

“As usual,” in Graves’ world, encompasses at least half a century. Graves doesn’t know when she became block captain of 5800 Chew Avenue, but remembers “giving out the papers and going to meetings in 1965.”

During the decades as a community leader, she also had three successful careers – the first as a line supervisor at the Honeywell Plant in Ft. Washington. She became an ordained as an Episcopalian Deacon in the mid-80’s. Graves retired from Honeywell at 64, and went back to college to become a hospice chaplain. She worked for 10 years as an on-call hospice chaplain, responding to calls at any hour.

“I’d get a call late at night.” Graves remembers, “I’d put on my slacks on top of my pajamas and go out.”

Remaining energetic in her 80’s, she achieved her Master’s Degree in Theological Studes in 2003.

Graves stresses personal responsibility in all she does. As a citizen, she expects us all to vote. “People need to elect leaders who can help our children get a good education and help create more jobs.”

All Candidates Forum provides the opportunity for citizens to ask questions of candidates running for mayor, city council, and the courts It is organized by Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club.

6:00 pm, Wissahickon Charter School – Awbry Campus

815 E. Washington Lane

For more information: 215-849-8021

Andrea D. Carter

AndreaCarter_001bFresh Strawberries at 100 N. Peach St.

Andrea Carter’s regrets planting too late for strawberries last year. “There is nothing like the taste of a strawberry off the vine,” says Carter.

Carter created a container garden in a vacant lot on N. Peach St. The lot was filthy. “I knew no one would want to eat something grown in that soil. ” says Carter. During the weeks she spent cleaning and weeding the front half of the lot, she drove around on trash days and collected enough containers, crates, and plastic bottles to begin transplanting the seedlings.

Carter hoped the garden would interest the kids on the block. She set up a portable greenhouse on her porch to grow seedlings. “I wanted to peek their interest,” Carter says. If they came to ask questions about the greenhouse, Carter would talk to them about the garden.

None of the eight children who helped last summer had ever grown anything. When I visited their garden last fall, I watched as they nervously tasted their first grape tomatoes off of the vine. Ethan, 10, wrinkled his nose and closed his eyes before putting the small red ball into his mouth. Zamir, 9, puckered his face as he watched Ethan brave the fresh food. Angel, 12, was more composed and curious. She nibbled thoughtfully, taking tiny bites from the small fruit.

AndreaCarter_5884

“Some of the kids on the block have it rough,” Carter explains.  “The kids need something to do.” She devised a citizenship program and gave prizes, including digital tablets and a remote-control car, to the children who were “really, really helpful – not just in the garden, but at home and at school.”

Carter is not sure how many kids will come to help plant this weekend. Besides strawberries, she has seedlings for tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, pole beans, carrots, peas, watermelon, cantaloupe, garlic and corn. Carter wants fresh strawberries, “If we don’t get something into the soil soon, we won’t have anything to harvest until fall.”

Town Hall on Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration

townhallimage

 

You’re invited on March 25 for the RELEASE Town Hall on Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration.

“We invite people organizing to end mass incarceration, detention, and deportation. We invite people organizing to end violence against women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people. And we invite all those people whose lives demand that we organize to end all these systems of oppression at the same time.

In this town hall event, we will use creative arts expression, and small group discussions to reflect honestly together on the fears that divide us and to build a shared vision for community safety and individual safety that doesn’t rely on imprisonment.”

Here are the details:
Wednesday, March 25, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street
The space is fully wheelchair accessible.
Childcare and food will be provided.

Register for the March 25 RELEASE Town Hall now

This town hall is part of RELEASE, an ongoing exhibition and program series that explores the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration. RELEASE is co-presented by Bread & Roses Community Fund and the Leeway Foundation. RELEASE aims to provide shared spaces for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming survivors of the prison industrial complex, local artists, cultural producers, and activists to critically reflect and build power for change.

Community Art – Everybody Wins

Today is the last day that Ci-Lines, the temporary installation created by Aaron Asis at St. Andrew’s Collegiate Chapel, will exist. It has been an incredible experience to work with the talented and visionary Mr. Asis, to spend time in the stunningly beautiful Chapel, to work the Penn Alexander 5th graders, and to welcome the hundreds of visitors that have come to see the exhibition so far. The chapel at 4205 Spruce Street will be open to the public from noon to 4:00 pm. Then at 4:00, we will host “Stories of St. Andrew’s”, and we will listen to and share stories about the history, the architecture and the community that is/was St. Andrew’s. I hope to see you there.

I also want to extend an appreciative welcome to the 20 new subscribers to Them That Do!

 

Aaron Asis, right, looks at his installation at St. Andrew's Collegiate Chapel with 5th graders from Penn Alexander School.

Aaron Asis, right, looks at his installation at St. Andrew’s Collegiate Chapel with 5th graders from Penn Alexander School.

Seeing Between The Ci-Lines: St. Andrew’s Chapel Awakened With Art And Geometry | Hidden City Philadelphia

Seeing Between The Ci-Lines: St. Andrew’s Chapel Awakened With Art And Geometry | Hidden City Philadelphia.

New Work at Main Line Art Center

Two early successes from my Urban Farmers portrait series will be on exhibit at the Main Line Art Center. The opening reception is Friday, Jan. 16, 5:30 – 7:30.

I’m sending a shout out to Don Shump, the Bee Beard Man,  and Jacob at the Philadelphia Bee Company and to all those lovely  Philadelphia Urban Creators!

Dayuana Broggins at Urban Creators Community Garden. Philadelphia 2014

Dayuana Broggins at Urban Creators Community Garden. Philadelphia 2014

Jacob Arnold, closes bee hood on a rooftop apiary. Philadelphia, 2014

Jacob Arnold, closes bee hood on a rooftop apiary. Philadelphia, 2014

Street Movies – Shared Stories

Thank you Scribe Video Center for organizing Street Movies! and screening Them That Do Films. The film about Lisa Barkley and the Haddington Homes gardens screened on Wednesday  in North Philly at another amazing urban garden built by the Philadelphia Urban Creators. Last night’s screening at Malcolm X Park was rained out by a beautiful, soaking cloud burst. The photos below are from the Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC) garden. To learn more about PUC, read GRID magazine’s  August issue.

The opening animation sequence.

Them That Do’s awesome animation by Allison Kerek.

Maudene Nelson of Care Coordination Services, LLC, stir fires kale for audience members.

Maudene Nelson of Care Coordination Services, LLC, prepares kale for audience members.

Jeaninne Kayembe, founding member of Philadelphia Urban Creators and poet, acted as emcee for the night.

Jeaninne Kayembe, founding member of Philadelphia Urban Creators and poet, acted as emcee for the night.

The Unity played a set.

The Unity played a set.