A relationship rooted in community history

North Philadelphia native Vince Griffin encountered his first experience with Temple 54 years ago. At the age of seven, Griffin participated in a summer preparatory program which partnered the College of Education with local North

North Philadelphia native Vince Griffin encountered his first experience with Temple 54 years ago. At the age of seven, Griffin participated in a summer preparatory program which partnered the College of Education with local North Philadelphia elementary school children.

“As a child in the summer school program, education majors would practice and hone their teaching programs with us. They would take us out and it was beautiful because they would give us a nice little lunch and they would have games,” Griffin said. “We thought it was a delight and since those days I’ve seen how Temple has grown.”

Griffin, 61, is a security officer with AlliedBarton, who lived on the 1300 block of Diamond Street and the 1700 block of Berks Street. Griffin said he believed the partnership program was a beneficial factor towards him and his peers.

“It exposed us to what a college was,” he said. “At first, it was a forbidden area because we didn’t know what went on there. Military and work was the only option for blacks at the time.” The relationship between Temple and neighboring communities has long been a pressing issue for residents and the university. Since 1970, planning and negotiating have been primary outlets to formulating agreements on housing, commercial development, education and communication.

In March 1970, the Temple University-North Philadelphia Charrette, a joint planning process between the university, community residents and federal, state and city agencies, initiated the dividing of 22 contested acres. The community was rationed control over 12.5 acres and the university retained 9.5 acres. The settlement allowed for the university’s building program east of 12th Street.

The agreement represented a mutual understanding and collective action among Temple and community representatives. But for James Dickerson, a 1978 Temple alumnus and an adjunct professor in the African-American studies department, the evidence of progress toward interrelated problems of the community and university development was not visible during his tenure as an undergraduate.

“When I was growing up, we viewed Temple University as a white school, and we viewed the campus as hostile and as a separatist type organization that separated itself from the community,” said Dickerson, who is one of the founders of the Fatherhood Institute, an independent community-based organization.

“If there wasn’t an actual fence around the university, there was a virtual fence, and people from North Philadelphia did not feel comfortable or welcomed on Temple University’s campus when I was growing up,” he added.

Born in 1948, Dickerson lived on 18th and Master streets, the 1500 block of Dauphin Street and the 2300 block of North Colorado Street during his childhood and young adult years. Prior to attending Temple as an undergraduate, Dickerson viewed the university as a small multi-faceted institution in a massive urban environment.

Ten years before Dickerson’s enrollment as an undergraduate, Temple’s black student body for the 1967-1968 school year was the highest in the Pennsylvania region, totaling 2,030, according to a Board of Trustees Community Service and Involvement manual established in May 1968. Significantly higher, white student enrollment was 14,564.

Since then, the figures for minority enrollment have marginally increased. According to the Planning and Policy Analysis office’s Fall 2007 Student Profile, there are 5,277 black undergraduates and graduate students at Temple worldwide. The enrollment figures of Asian and Hispanic undergraduates and graduates are 3,450 and 1,175 respectively. White enrollment remains high with a total of 20,082 undergraduates and graduates.

“At this point in time, I think things are changing, and certainly doors have opened and more African American students have gained entry into these once hallowed halls,” Dickerson said. “But if we take a critical look at Temple University over time, it certainly fits the model of white institution in a black community and that the institution generally and historically ignored the community and the residents who lived nearby, but that has changed.”

In the last 37 years, the university has had an ongoing relationship with Norris Homes of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

On January 3, 1995, the university officially adopted Norris Homes. In recognition of the adoption, the university pledged to provide an array of services such as tutoring programs for Norris Homes’ school age children, admission tickets to Temple sports and entertainment activities as well as opportunities for residents to receive job placements at the university upon available openings.

“I’ve noticed an effort by Temple to make sure they hire people from the community. They need to do more of that. I think there are some menial jobs or jobs that might require minimal skills that they could bring into the neighborhood,” Griffin said.

As the student trustee and University Affairs chair, Farzad Firoz, a senior finance major, oversees the Temple Student Government affiliate committee, Strengthening the Community, which consists of students who implement various volunteer and community services for local residents. Firoz said he has found education to be a critical factor in community involvement.

“Kids who are able to go to college should come back and teach the community, which is one of the best ways to positively affect the community,” Firoz said.

Since the start of the semester, Firoz, along with the TSG Executive Board and the Main Campus Program Board, have taken youth from Norris Homes to several Temple football home games.

The Center for Social Policy and Community Development, a department of the School of Social Administration, strives to address social injustice and build neighborhood capacity by exchanging resources between the university and the surrounding North Philadelphia community. As an affiliate unit of CSPCD, Youth and Community Development sponsors Achieving through Lifelong Learning, an after-school and summer enrichment program, The program serves middle and high school students in grades six through 12 in the 19121 and 19122 zip code areas.

Stephen Witherspoon is the Assistant Program Coordinator of ALL and a former Temple Police officer. After serving 11 years as an officer, Witherspoon became attracted to encouraging academic achievement and career exploration within the community’s youth.

“You have to teach a person something if you expect them to act or perform differently,” Witherspoon said. “You have to teach them because often times a lot of youth or adults haven’t been taught anything different and based on the communities a lot of them come from crime-infested areas. And if that’s all they see, then how can we expect them to do or act any different?

“What they need is to be enlightened, educated and to have other options,” he said.

Community outreach has also helped to increase safety in the surrounding communities. As an officer, Witherspoon recalled residents as being grateful of police presence.

“People saw us as being more approachable. You could go out into the community and people would always enjoy seeing you. They’d want to talk to you, and I thought that strengthened our relationship within the community,” Witherspoon said.

The exploration of new security arrangements with the neighborhoods surrounding Temple has expanded the Main Campus area for both the use of community residents and the increasing number of faculty and students who live in North Philadelphia.

“What I see is the community assuming a multicultural complexion. There are more white people and people of other nationalities walking freely in the community, and I think that the message for the university is that it’s OK to walk around here now,” Dickerson said. “There was a lot of fear about black people on the basis of them being black, and now it seems that people understand that just because they’re black doesn’t mean that they’re dangerous.”

Brittany Diggs can be reached at bdiggs@temple.edu.

Temple’s Impact on the regional economy:

$2.7 billion – Total economic impact
$1.09 billion – Employee spending
$850 million – Operational spending
$631 million – Student and visitor spending
$95.5 million – Construction spending
$8.7 billion – Contributions of Temple graduates

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