From the ground up

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and sanitation worker Terrill Haigler organized a street cleanup for Martin Luther King Day of Service.

James Scott Jr., 51, a police officer from Northeast Philadelphia, cleans up trash from an empty lot on 17th Street near Jefferson on Jan. 18. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

On Monday, residents gathered at 17th Street near Jefferson to clean up trash with Terrill Haigler, also known as YaFavTrashman, and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. In honor of the Martin Luther King Day of Service, volunteers used garbage bags, rakes and brooms to clean trash out of empty lots along 17th Street between Jefferson and Master streets.

Kenyatta and Haigler, a sanitation worker from North Central, have known each other since playing tennis together as kids and wanted to team up to support the neighborhood where they grew up.

“It was a good opportunity to partner together on a day that’s supposed to be all about service,” Kenyatta said. “But also about reminding ourselves of the work that’s yet to be done.”

About 200 volunteers helped clean up the area, using the holiday for community service.

“MLK Day of Service is exactly that,” Haigler said. “It’s a day of service, it’s a day of sacrifice, it’s a day that you think not of yourself, but think of someone who may be struggling.”

This past summer, Haigler started an Instagram account called @_yafavtrashman, which grew a large following, to help city residents understand the work of a sanitation worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I use that platform to educate the community about trash and to bridge that gap between the department and the residents, which I felt was pretty big,” Haigler said, adding that he thinks the gap is much smaller now.

James Scott Jr., 51, a police officer from Northeast Philadelphia, dedicated his day off to cleaning up the neighborhood in the spirit of King.

“I don’t live here, but other people live here,” Scott said. “So maybe they’ll want to keep it clean and feel better about themselves and their community.”

Carrisson Hooks, 18, and Julian Richardson, 18, students from West Philadelphia who attend West Chester University and Pennsylvania State University, respectively, came to clean up the neighborhood together after Hooks saw a flyer for the event.

Community-driven programs like the cleanup are a great way to directly impact your neighborhood, Richardson said.

“It’s nice having a mayor and a governor, but they don’t always have the time, or they don’t always immediately think about issues like trash in a neighborhood in North Philly,” Richardson said.

Daniel Paschall, 33, a transportation planner and advocate who lives in Brewerytown, recognizes the positive impact of cleanup events.

“A lot of times if people are walking by trash-strewn streets, they maybe lost confidence in the neighborhood’s care for itself,” Paschall said. “This kind of does the opposite of that. It shows that people care and it brings people together.”

By coming together, volunteers were able to spend three hours cleaning up the neighborhood’s streets and empty lots while honoring the legacy of King. 

“It’s just trying to honor what he started,” Richardson said. “Give back. Be around people, be social, but try and make a change.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Grant BLVD.

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