Juanita Hatton

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Juanita Hatton – 3900 Poplar St

Juanita Lewis Hatton leans over the thick black back-support belt, noisily adjusting the Velcro clasp. “Oh God!” she says. “I suffer with this back pain. It’s not as bad as yesterday, mind you,” she tells me.

Ms. Hatton was preparing to step outside and distribute her monthly newsletter door-to-door for her residents. She lives on a street peppered with vacant lots, abandoned buildings and dilapidated homes. Yet the street has no visible trash and the grass in the vacant lots is cut.

Hatton moved into her three-story row home on Poplar St. in 2009. Within the first week of moving in, she started sweeping her block and picking up trash. She swept as if it was an obvious thing to do. The neighbors were intrigued. They questioned the 72-year-old grandmother to find out which government agency she worked for.

Hatton has been a block captain for over a total of 38 years. Most of those years she served her former block in Nicetown where she became known as the ‘Granny of Nicetown’. She rallied her neighbors to board up abandoned houses, organized neighborhood watches, planned summer festivals and flea markets, connected civic and health resources to the community and she spearheaded the rehabilitation of Nicetown Park on Germantown Avenue.

Hatton wrote lots of letters too. She wrote to President Bill Clinton for years to let him know what was going on in Philadelphia neighborhoods during the crack epidemic of the late 80’s and 90’s.  Her letters went unanswered until Clinton’s office called Hatton in 1997 to tell her that Clinton selected Nicetown to host his 1997 Summit For America’s Future.

She became a prominent voice in her community, often quoted in local media, using folksy mottos like “It’s not about me, it’s about the children” or “It’s not a ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.” – which she still says today.

Hatton knows about struggle. Her husband died in 1976, leaving her with four children to raise on her own. “Everything was a fight for me,” she said.

Hatton works through chronic back pain because she believes she can make a difference. She also does it for health reasons, “One of the biggest reasons that I help people is so I don’t focus on my disability.”

So Hatton strapped on a back support belt one cold spring morning in order to distribute her monthly newsletter. She remained realistic about the job. “I still got a lot of years of running to do to get this neighborhood straight for the children.”

Author’s note:  Stay tuned to themthatdo.org for a short film about Ms Hatton, “Them That Do”.

 

 

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