Rising From the Ashes
On Saturday, August 23, hundreds of neighbors gathered in the neighborhood where Project HOME is engaged in community development for this year’s Annual Day. It was a wonderful celebration of the neighborhood, including drill team parades, a medical fair, family activities, good food, and lots of fun.
Just two days after our Annual Day celebration, an article appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News recounting events in our community that happened 50 years ago, which had a massive impact on the neighborhood – three days of rioting that ravaged the community and led to what some believe was major decline in the once bustling economic district (formerly called Columbia Ave, now Cecil B. Moore). The "ignition" to the three days of rioting on Columbia and the surrounding streets in 1964 started over an incident between police and the public at the corner of 22nd and Cecil B. Moore.
Since I began working with Project HOME’s health programs in this community, I have heard talk about that riot, and even reference to “ground zero” – the intersection of 22d Street and Columbia Avenue, where the incident that triggered the riots happened. Only after reading this article did I realize that "ground zero" was where Project HOME’s Stephen Klein Wellness Center is located.
The significance of this history should not be lost on us, especially as we are just a few months away from moving to the corner of 22nd and Cecil B. Moore. For me, it is a very humbling reminder that we cannot ignore or forget what the community went through during those difficult days in 1964, and since then.
The article called the riots an "extinction" event -- but we can't let that word define the next chapter in the community's story. The article ends on the horribly sour and inaccurate note -- "The riot's ground zero is a rotting empty building." But the writer is terribly mistaken: Ground zero is not a just "a rotting empty building" (the article is referring to the structure across 22nd street from our building). Ground zero is also a wellness center, an older adult center, a bustling recreation center, and nearby well-attended churches, which are symbols of a community's incredible strength, resilience, and power to rise out of the ashes.
We can't forget our history, but we also can't deny the hopeful future that is here and is coming.