Activists in the North Central District of Philadelphia have taken root in the Church of the Advocate to hold weekly meetings on gentrification, for years a hotbed issue that has tensions mounting between students and residents of the once primarily working class community.
The displacement of the residents has caused community outrage and has sparked the creation of the Black Communities United Coalition. The organization is being led by Elliot Booker, a resident of North Philadelphia, and Phile’ Chionesu, creator of the Million Woman March Movement.
The organization will be meeting every Saturday from 4-7 p.m. at the church on 18th and Diamond streets in an effort to slow the ongoing gentrification process in North Philadelphia and to help assist the displaced residents.
Temple has estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 students in the past decade have moved into the blocks surrounding the once primarily commuter school.
This past Saturday was the second official meeting of the Black Communities United Coalition since it formed two weeks ago to combat a new proposed development on the 2100 block of North Gratz Street, which the coalition said will leave many residents and families displaced.
“It’s quite obvious that there is not ample representation to address these issues,” Chionesu said. “How many meetings will have to occur to address something that has been occurring for 15, 20, 25 years…the reality is we will meet for as long as we need to.”
“How can we collectively fight back? There is an immediate situation here. Bottom-line what is our response going to be,” Booker said as he opened the meeting on March 15.
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, who represents the 181st District including the portion of the North Central District where the church is located, attended the meeting this past Saturday, March 15.
“I would want to talk to the people in this area and find out from them what kind of community do they want,” Thomas said. “I think that there needs to be a conversation and then once we’ve had a conversation and we’re clear about what people want, then I think we’ll need to look at legislative…avenues to help people to achieve this.”
The meeting was held amid protests from residents, including Booker, who denounced Curtis as a politician who “had failed the community.”
Thomas promised to meet with the Black Communities United Coalition Monday morning, March 17 in his office to discuss how to slow the process of gentrification.
Thomas said he would be driving by the 2100 block of North Gratz Street and would be working on determining if the properties there are being taken away from residents by the city of Philadelphia using eminent domain.
When both Kemah Washington, the senior warden of the Church of the Advocate, and Chionesu went to contact the residents of the 2100 block, the residents declined to comment and did not attend the meeting.
On March 10, student and community activists protested and held a sit-in at a Board of Trustees meeting held in Sullivan Hall. The protestors called for the reinstatement of African-American studies professor Anthony Monteiro, as well as a review of issues like gentrification occurring in the community.
That group, Justice for Dr. Anthony Monteiro, is scheduled to hold a meeting at the Church of the Advocate Tuesday.
Sarai Flores can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.