Any time civil rights activist Malcolm X came to Philadelphia, he’d visit community activist Annie Hyman and ask her to prepare fish just the way he liked it.
To everyone else, the man was a “visionary,” said Andrea Swan, Temple University’s director of community and neighborhood affairs in the Office of Community Relations.
“But to Mrs. Hyman, that was just Malcolm,” Swan added.
Hyman, who died in 2010, created the Pan-African Studies Community Education Program in 1975 to provide a low-cost education service to the North Philadelphia community. This year, the program is celebrating its 40th anniversary of when it merged with Temple University in 1979.
PASCEP, which is within the Office of Community Relations, offers low-cost, non-credit classes taught by volunteer instructors in hundreds of different academic fields, including financial literacy, computer courses and sewing. In total, PASCEP has taught 780 educational programs to Philadelphia residents.
Over the decades, PASCEP changed headquarters, shuffled through directors and fought to stay open. But Ulicia Lawrence-Oladeinde, the program’s current director, said it has never strayed from Hyman’s original mission of “keeping the community informed.”
“Temple is the anchor institution in this community,” Lawrence-Oladeinde said. “But if the community doesn’t feel as though they’re comfortable coming into the institution, how are they ever supposed to get here?”
“We need to open up Temple so that the community as a whole would have access,” she added.
Hyman — a 1976 School of Social Work alumna — wanted higher education to be accessible to every North Philadelphia resident. Her educational programming was first offered in 1975 in churches and schools throughout the community.
PASCEP officially merged with Temple in 1979, holding classes in Gladfelter and Anderson halls under the Pan-African Studies Department, which was later renamed the Department of Africology and African American Studies.
Lawrence-Oladeinde remembers Black entrepreneurs selling their goods in the lecture halls during her first visit to PASCEP, when her daughter was enrolled in a class in the 1990s. The environment was “steeped in culture,” she said.
“What impressed me the most, there were Temple University students sitting around and having discussions and conversations with community people around different subjects and different topics in the lecture halls,” she added. “There was actually active critical discussions. That was absolutely wonderful.”
Coupled together, PASCEP and the Pan-African Studies Department symbolized a burgeoning trend of studying Black history and thought in higher education. Temple was one of the first universities in the United States to establish the department in 1971, following a national movement for historically white institutions to add African-American studies to curricula.
This only makes PASCEP’s history more significant, said Jaki Mungai, a former PASCEP professor who worked with Hyman in the 1970s.
“People were excited,” Mungai added. “They said, ‘It’s about time. …This is our university and our education.’”
PASCEP’s campus presence
In 2008, PASCEP lost its space in Gladfelter and Anderson halls, where they were able to hold programs for about 1,500 people, Lawrence-Oladeinde said. It moved to the second floor of the Entertainment and Community Education Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street, where it holds the majority of its classes under the auspices of the Office of Community Relations.
Moving PASCEP off campus was “a slap in the face” from Temple, said Carl Ivey, who has taught English courses for PASCEP since 1998. Yumy Odom agreed, citing the move as the reason he resigned from his position as PASCEP’s director in 2008.
“It diminished Annie Hyman’s vision,” said Odom, who said he worked with Hyman for 20 years.
Temple has not paid enough attention to the program over the years, said Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, who was the director of PASCEP in the 1980s.
It’s high on her “list of disappointment with the university,” added Sullivan-Ongonza, a 1979 elementary education alumna.
However, PASCEP’s headquarters was a physical anchor during some of the program’s shaky developments in the past decade. It lost its matriarch in 2010 when Hyman died and did not have a director for two and a half years after former longtime director Willie Rogers retired in 2014.
In wake of the changes, Lawrence-Oladeinde stepped in and became director in 2016 after 19 years at the Center for Social Policy and Community Development, which offers programs that counter issues negatively affecting residents’ health and wellbeing. Lawrence-Oladeinde incorporated workforce development and life skills into the center, so PASCEP was a natural transition, she said.
“I’m not one of those people who takes their job lightly,” she added. “So mine was to look at what is the history, what are the most important things to continue to do and then go after that.”
Though others involved with PASCEP criticized the university’s support of the program, Lawrence-Oladeinde said the Office of Community Relations insisted on continuing classes for community members, even when PASCEP didn’t have a director.
The university moved PASCEP to the Entertainment and Community Education Center because of Temple’s growing number of incoming students, Swan said. From 2007-08, the university’s total undergraduate enrollment increased by more than 800 students, according to reports from the Office of the Provost.
Conducting classes off campus is different from being in Main Campus’ academic buildings, Swan said, but it’s more inviting to residents because it’s in the community. No matter PASCEP’s location, she said, the university has remained committed to maintaining the program as a valuable resource to the North Philadelphia community.
“PASCEP is not…a series of classes,” Swan said. “PASCEP is a community.”
‘They refuse to let it die’
Two people — Lawrence-Oladeinde and her administrative assistant, Linda McCleary — coordinate all PASCEP classes for the 510 students who are currently enrolled. This semester, about 40 volunteer instructors are teaching 80 classes, which mostly range from $20 to $40.
In addition to classes, PASCEP has “Community Thursdays,” which are free weekly workshops focused on topics like mental health. It also opens up its computer lab for free internet access Mondays through Thursdays from 1-5 p.m. and hosts reentry workshops in partnership with local organizations from 9 a.m. to noon every Tuesday.
Lawrence-Oladeinde and McCleary often spend 10- or 12-hour days in the office, Lawrence-Oladeinde said. The instructors, too, are staunchly committed to the program.
“They refuse to let it die,” Lawrence-Oladeinde added.
There are several volunteer instructors, like James Veal, who have consecutively taught PASCEP classes for decades, Lawrence-Oladeinde said. Veal has taught Sick of Being Broke, a financial literacy class, for 17 years.
Veal is “mentally insane” to have stuck with the classes for so long, he joked, but the students and giving back to others make it worthwhile.
“[PASCEP] changes people’s lives and…they will go out and share that information with others,” said Veal, who was born on Norris Street near 11th. “So that helps the community, helps the environment, right? Because they’re sharing positivity and tell others about the program.”
On Saturday, Veal’s class of about 10 students agreed in unison that word of mouth is the main way people learn about PASCEP. Selma Williams, one of Veal’s students, said she heard about his class from her bus driver.
Michele Kingston, another of Veal’s students, was excited to learn about PASCEP and plans on taking other classes.
“There are phenomenal things that are being offered to the community through the program that I didn’t even know existed,” she said.
PASCEP’s do-it-yourself attitude was ingrained since its beginning, starting with Hyman, and is continued by the program’s current volunteer corps.
“God bless them, they were innovative,” Lawrence-Oladeinde said. “And it worked.”
Miles Wall contributed reporting.