The Ferguson grand jury is still deliberating on whether to charge Police Officer Darren Wilson in shooting death of Michael Brown or send him on his merry way.
When the verdict is announced, groups will hit the street with all deliberate speed. The Ferguson National Response Network is curating after-the-verdict events nationwide. The FBI, National Guard and police departments across the country are getting ready. So are social justice activists.
Tuesday is Election Day. You know the mantra: Our ancestors died for the right to die. It’s your civic responsibility. It could be a lot worse. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is the most important election since [fill in the blank].
If you’re unsure of the location of your polling place, hours of operation or who’s on the ballot, there’s an app for that -- Get to the Polls.
While I’m a voting rights activist, I understand why many are skeptical about the efficacy of voting. It seems like little ever changes for the better. Yes, your vote is your voice. But the change you want doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.
Turning out to vote is the first step. But civic engagement is a process, not an event. Truth be told, elected officials want you to go away after you vote for them. To make a difference, you must stay engaged after Election Day.
You also must hold those for whom you vote accountable. No elected official should be given a pass simply because he or she looks like you.
Philadelphia is changing. From the “Lost Our Lease” signs on Market Street to the “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs in gentrifying neighborhoods, the signs of change are everywhere. There is growing concern that gentrification will displace longtime residents.
Black Philadelphians have seen this movie before. African Americans were pushed out of Society Hill. Black business owners were advised to leave South Philly because an expressway was going to be built. It wasn’t. The neighborhood was once chock-a-block with black-owned jazz spots and small businesses. Dubbed the “Harlem Quarter,” it now looks like its namesake. African Americans are no longer the majority in Harlem.
On the heels of the destruction of the John Coltrane mural, another iconic African American mural is on the chopping block. The Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to tear down the Women of Jazz mural in Strawberry Mansion.
The blonde next to Nina Simone is Dorothy “Dottie” Smith. A longtime resident of Strawberry Mansion, Mrs. Smith died in January 2013. Her family and neighbors are outraged that PHA is doing nothing to preserve the mural. Their outrage is shared by the community at large.
When I brought the destruction of the murals to his attention, Michael jumped on it. I will update the community tonight at the monthly meeting of ATAC, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at Zion Baptist Church, located at Broad and Venango.
On Saturday, I walked the back streets of Philadelphia and cried.
No, I wasn’t crying over a lost love. With no notice to the Strawberry Mansion community, Pennrose, a multifamily development and residential property management company, took the wrecking ball to the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural at Diamond and 32nd Streets.
My understanding is that they’re supposed to be replacing that mural. How they’re supposed to do it, I don’t know. I’m just waiting to see.
I’m not one to wait. On their “About Us” page, Pennrose says “(f)rom new construction to historic preservation, we maximize value and provide outstanding quality. I will contact the company to find out what they did to preserve the mural. What is their plan to replace a mural that was valued by Strawberry Mansion residents and the Philadelphia jazz community?
One of the goals of All That Philly Jazz is to transform vacant spaces into vibrant places. Pennrose has transformed a vibrant space into what looks like a freshly dug grave.
In my presentation at Fast Forward Philly’s DesignPhiladelphia event, I said what’s next for Philly is to move beyond Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia to John Coltrane’s Philadelphia. “John Coltrane” is a metaphor for an innovative city where people want to live, visit, invest and long-time residents have more pride.
The destruction of the Coltrane mural undermines neighborhood pride, as well as Strawberry Mansion residents’ sense of ownership of their community.
For most folks, Philadelphia’s jazz legacy begins and ends with John Coltrane. To be sure, Coltrane is a giant part of the story. But as James G. Spady wrote in “Lost Jazz Shrines”:
Conversations with pioneers of the jazz community in Philadelphia reveal the city’s illustrious yet largely undocumented jazz history.
We’re working on an app for that. All That Philly Jazz is mapping Philly’s jazz heritage from bebop to hip-hop.
From Dizzy Gillespie at the Downbeat to The Roots mural on South Street, we are breathing life into legendary jazz spots like Union Local 274 (Clef Club), Pep’s, Showboat, Aqua Lounge, Watts Zanzibar, Café Holiday, Geno’s Empty Foxhole and the Red Rooster.
Sadly, few of the physical assets remain. Jazz spots fell victim to race riots and urban renewal. As a result, the legacy largely resides in the memories of those who were there. So to preserve the history for future generations, All That Philly Jazz is crowdsourced. As we build out the interactive map, we have created a placeholder website where community members and folks anywhere in the world can share their memories, photos and videos of the jazz scene back in the day.
Two weeks from today, the Philadelphia School District will open the doors to buildings that are schools in name only. Traditional public schools increasingly are joyless places where children are warehoused and opportunities for learning are elusive.
Superintendent William R. Hite recently announced that schools will open on time with another $31 million in cuts:
Today, just three weeks from school opening, we once again find ourselves having to make unbelievably tough choices. As we announced more than a month ago, we have an $81 million shortfall in our current year budget, which must be closed through additional revenues or cost reductions.
For the sake of minimizing disruptions for families and for the sake of educating children, we have made the decision to make a series of additional difficult – and, hopefully, temporary – cuts in order to open schools on time.
The “temporary” cuts include:
Fewer school police officers
Less frequent cleaning of schools
Fewer cleaning supplies
Delayed repairs at schools
Hite said he hoped to “realize significant revenues from additional building sales.”
On Friday, the William Penn Development Coalition withdrew its legal action that had effectively blocked the sale of William Penn High School to Temple University. William Penn was temporarily closed in 2009. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the WPDC Executive Board.)
The decision to withdraw its lis pendens was in recognition that WPDC had exhausted that legal remedy. WPDC President Inez Henderson-Purnell said in a statement:
We fought the good fight. With this action, the sale of William Penn to Temple University will go forward. But the fight to save William Penn is broader than one school. William Penn has become a metaphor in the struggle to ensure our children have access to high quality traditional public schools.
In the late ‘90s, my mentor Milton Bins took me on a site visit to William Penn. Now deceased, Milton was a longtime advocate for public education with the Council of the Great City Schools.
Back in the day, William Penn was a highly successful school. Its death is an object lesson on what happens when a school is systematically and deliberately stripped of resources. The building becomes a shadow of its former glory. WPDC Treasurer Priscilla Woods observed:
William Penn is a cautionary tale about what happens when a school is deprived of resources. The School District of Philadelphia’s disinvestment led to the death of the 1st Governor’s School of Excellence at William Penn, which was the best equipped educational facility of its day with five academic academies.
We now see this happening districtwide. In September, schools will open with even fewer resources than “the inadequate and insufficient resources schools had last year.”
While I am grateful that students and parents will not have to deal with the disruption of our public schools opening late, I am deeply concerned that the continued lack of adequate funding will further erode conditions in our classrooms. The cuts that were announced today, as well as the ongoing insecurity given the lack of additional funds from Harrisburg, are simply unacceptable. The lack of commitment to our public schools in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth has become a national embarrassment.
We already know that current funding levels are not enough to create an environment to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st Century. Conditions in our public schools were deplorable last year and now the system is gearing up for a repeat at best, with likely even less funding and more cuts to vital programs. We cannot expect our children to shine academically while providing them with such woefully inadequate resources.
Had enough? If you care about our children, bear witness to what’s happening in your school. Let your voices be heard.
For more info about the town hall meeting, go here.