Demystifying North Philly stereotypes on the stage and streets

SHOT! – a Temple Theater production – addresses the bubble students have grown accustomed to, as the public is quick to judge Temple’s community.

SHOT! – a Temple Theater production – addresses the bubble students have grown accustomed to, as the public is quick to judge Temple’s community.

It is no secret that violence in Philadelphia has become an epidemic. The problem the North Philadelphia community faces is the normality of its violence, but Associate Professor of Theater Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon refuses to accept the image of individuals from North Philadelphia as “domestic terrorists,” or those who practice terrorism in their own countries against their own people.Picture 4

Williams-Witherspoon said she won’t allow this urban genocide to be the demise of the North Philadelphia community. In SHOT!, Temple Theaters’ latest production, Williams-Witherspoon went beyond the neighborhood’s stereotypes to raise awareness of the unfortunate mortality of community members.

“There are young people dying every single day,” Williams-Witherspoon said. “It is everybody’s responsibility. It is not enough to just stereotype these individuals as thugs. We have to talk about the reasons why. Conditions exist that will turn individuals into not respecting life the way that we see it.”

Senior theater major Amanda Holston plays the part of Dr. Amy Goldberg, a section chief and trauma and surgical critical care professor at Temple Hospital.

“When you go to Temple, you live in this little bubble,” Holston said. “I didn’t know it was this bad. [SHOT!] makes me look at the streets differently. I realize its not all bad, it’s just that people are struggling.”

Drugs, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, abandoned houses, crime, poverty and lack of education are just some characteristics associated with the neighborhoods surrounding Temple. Corners filled with soggy stuffed animals from makeshift memorials, burnt-out candles and picture frames holding photos of loved ones lost appear on corners throughout the communities.

“My parents were scared for me to go to Temple, but I explained to them that the neighborhood is not as bad as it is portrayed,” freshman university studies major Tara Innamorato said.

Williams-Witherspoon pointed out that there are families who have tried to maintain good lives. North Philadelphia was once a lively place with welcoming people. It was a family-oriented neighborhood where everybody looked out for one another.

Thirty-year-old Prentice Boone is a prime example of what North Philadelphia once was and what it could be if people put enough time and effort into improving their community. Born and raised at 24th and Somerset streets, Boone, affectionately known as “P” to the neighborhood, is the manager of North Philthy Barbershop, located on 22nd Street and Indiana Avenue, and owns his own clothing line, North Philthy.

The perception of North Philadelphia is based on fear, but Boone emphasized that this view is only an outsider’s perspective.

“If you live here, you don’t have that fear,” Boone said. “When you are outside of North Philadelphia, [it’s] only because you hear those types of rumors [that] you become more fearful of what’s going on. If you live here, you’re not scared to walk to the corner store. You’re not scared to let your kids play outside while you’re in the house cooking dinner because you’re in your [own] environment.”

Boone added that members of the community don’t pay much attention to what outsiders say because they’re too busy living their lives.

A 2006 University of Pennsylvania analysis found it more dangerous to be a young black man in Philadelphia than a soldier in Iraq. With such statistics, it is important to have projects like SHOT! and community organizations to dispel the types of pictures these facts paint.

One community organization close to Temple is doing its part to let the community know that they have a choice. The staff and volunteers of the Caring People Alliance at the R.W. Brown Community Center, located at 1701 N. Eighth St., strive to empower Philadelphia children and youth to become positive citizens, decision makers and leaders.

“We have a community, [and] the stereotype that North Philadelphia is all bad, not all of North Philadelphia is like that,” Assistant Director Lorraine Smith said.

Smith grew up in Yorktown and still resides in North Philadelphia, where she raises her three children across the street from the R.W. Brown Community Center.

The media and popular culture play a major role in the hype surrounding North Philadelphia. People don’t see the dynamics of the community firsthand, so ignorance trumps all.

But Williams-Witherspoon said she is convinced such ignorance can be overcome with more “pieces of art, literature [and] news articles that tell the truth [by] tell[ing] another side.

“We can change some of these stereotypes,” she said.

Haniyyah Sharpe can be reached at

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