A group of high school students held the second “What Matters” forum about housing and gentrification in North Philadelphia on Thursday at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street near 18th.
The Advocate Leadership Council, which is composed of the students, chose this month’s topic so attendees could share real-life experiences about housing and gentrification issues in North Philadelphia, hoping to ultimately to create a dialogue and explore solutions to these problems.
In November, the first ALC “What Matters” forum discussed the tension between the North Philadelphia community and Temple.
Jaylah Lee, a ninth-grade student at Simon Gratz High School, and Isaiah Allen, a ninth-grade student at TECH Freire Charter School, represented the ALC on the forum’s panel. Other panelists included 32nd ward Democratic chairperson Judith Robinson, urban geography Ph.D. candidate Kwesi Daniels and Cornelius Moody, a senior neuroscience major and member of the Philadelphia Coalition for R.E.A.L. Justice.
Lee and Allen said they have experienced issues with housing and gentrification throughout their childhood. Both students agreed that moving from home to home when the landlord raised the price of bills impacted their education.
“When I was supposed to be learning to read and write, I was moving around,” Allen said.
Daniels said the problem is less about gentrification and more about the failure to address its effects, like displacement of long-term residents.
“If this is what is happening now, I’m scared of what will happen 20 to 30 years down the line,” Daniels added.
Moody said his understanding of this problem is limited because he commutes to Main Campus and did not live in North Philadelphia. Still, he added that all Philadelphians should be here and know what is happening.
“For Black and Brown communities, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s also closely tied to racism,” Daniels said. “We say, ‘What is racism?’ It’s this big word, but when you look at people being displaced, and it’s disproportionately African Americans or other Brown people, clearly there is a racial component to that.”
For the remainder of the forum, the panel focused on exploring solutions to these issues.
Daniels said self-empowerment in communities facing gentrification is the first step to solving its resulting problems.
“Solutions need to come from within,” Daniels said. “The way to combat this is to re-educate ourselves and figure out ways to build in the spaces that are ours.”
Victoria Engelstad, 30, who lives on Emerald Street near Lehigh Avenue, has lived in Fishtown for years and has witnessed gentrification near her home. She said she came to the forum hoping to learn more about these issues.
“This was a really amazing way to hear the different perspectives, especially from academic people and students who’ve lived through it,” Engelstad said. “It was really impactful.”
Katherine Blunt, 65, who lives on Oxford Street near 10th, said she hopes people take action to solve gentrification in North Philadelphia. She suggested residents contact their representatives about gentrification issues as an easy way to begin to speak out and create change.
“This problem exists throughout the city of Philadelphia where long-term homeowners, especially seniors, Black, white or indifferent, are being pushed out,” Blunt said. “It was a good way to get the conversation started. Most of the people here are the choir and come with an idea about what is going on, not liking what’s going on, and want to move to action.”
“I believe the next step is to move to action, concrete action,” Blunt added.
The ALC will hold the next “What Matters” forum in May at the Church of the Advocate.
Kelly Brennan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @_kellybrennan.