Now when I walk down 40th Street in the morning hours of the day I imagine what the community looked like when John Africa and Black Panthers held down this section of West Philly with the physical presence of Black solidarity. Living down the bottom again has forced the resurfacing of many thoughts and emotions about the community, my family, and the dichotomy of genocide-Black on Black violence. Race relations between law enforcement officials and Black Americans have remained tenuous, especially due to the recent unwarranted killings of Black Americans by police officers in 2014 and 2015. Throughout the past 15 years I have consistently delved into the “race problem” for my own understanding –to become more aware of how to constructively interact with the people of various cultures that I encompass. In 2015 Baltimore was ushered through turmoil following the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police officers. Internationally, the Black diaspora has reached its tipping point and occurrences resembling the Baltimore “uprising” will be common place. After the protests in Baltimore several major cities were homes to demonstrations and protests by individuals, groups, and organizations representing the mantra, “Black Lives Matter.”
In Philadelphia I walked through the “Freddie Gray Protest” after I got off work from doing community outreach. Broad and Spring Garden is where I began to lazily trek my way south to get a bus heading to Camden. Approaching Callowhill Street I noticed the traffic was congested, people were doing u- turns, and the expressway was blocked off by protesters on Broad and Vine Streets. As protesters continued to block of the Interstate 676 east entrance the situation escalated and there appeared to be more “white shirts” out than petty officers. Later that evening I heard about 143 people were arrested for disorderly conduct and related offenses. Amazingly “the streets” murmured that Jay-Z and Beyoncé bailed out protesters to support the protest efforts against police violence towards Blacks. Practically the action Jay-Z and Beyoncé made denotes an effective way to use capital to attain cultural progress. The NAACP dispensed funding to support the financial costs of some historically progressive legislature- namely Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Without financial backing it is difficult to launch a campaign against oppression, but will capital secure basic human rights for the un-propertied?
Proceeding southwards on 40th Street, I approached Lancaster Avenue and the three-story house with a MLK mural; a stance he took when he visited the Ave in the 1960s. Thinking rhetorically, “John Africa and Mummia-Abu Jamal should have a mural standing side by side on this space,” hovering over the James L. Morse Funeral Home’s parking lot. The funeral service for an in-law was held at the funeral home back in the 1990s. There are so many funeral homes in Philadelphia, for just two blocks up the street-at another funeral home- Lucien Blackwell is colorfully depicted in a Mural that rests on the side of the building on 42nd Street and Haverford Avenue.
My recollection of the bottom is very near or more rather my memory of the bottom guides my instincts, motivation, and the energy I emit into the community. Some of the experiences I endured living around “39 Black-” the black side of 39th Street definitely created a desire in me to see the community exist in a better light. In June 2015 there were pictures on social media (Facebook) that showed my high school Uni being demolished. In silence I sat on the Route 10 trolley feeling enraged; passing the building in its demolition phase, I peered left and thought about the $160 my family had to pay for class dues. After all, part of the money was supposed to be used to purchase a gift for the school. What happened to all the gifts, trophies, banners, year books and memorabilia? Maybe it’ll be housed in the archives of the Philadelphia Free Library. In recognizing that art needs to be appreciated in a bottom-to-top fashion as Harold Cruse concedes in Crisis of the Negro intellectual, I also believe the artist represents the voice of the people and Nas poignantly finessed in conveying a perspective in the lyric, “schools where I learned they should be burned cause it’s poison.” Where will the school to replace it go? What will the name of the new school be?
Choosing to live in West Philadelphia again was what moving to California was for George Jackson, a place to live, but also a place to spend the remainder of one’s years. Given that my maternal family is from Ogden Street and my paternal family is from Brooklyn Street, existentially I see myself as starting from the ground up-to help build and preserve Black culture. I had some of the best experiences of my childhood in the streets I walk through daily as I head to ventures around town. Where are they now; all of Tyiene’s friends, the kids I went to high school with, the previous owners of “8 Brothers” the owners of the store that sold liquidated clothes that were faded? Every walking trip I take toward Market Street and back I glance at the old house on Powelton Avenue, thinking, wow-“settler colonialism.”
The Getty gas station can’t seem to keep a tenant it its auto repair space, so I guess they raised their rents too! Since 1993 the Red Cross building replaced the vacant lot we used to play baseball with rocks on. First there was a huge mural that had a black boy looking like he was shooting a basketball, but there was no basketball-his hands were just extended above his head and shoulders. The writing said, “I am large, I contain multitudes!” A replica of that same mural is on the Red Cross building on its side. I know where some of us are; “Pop-Pop;” Uncle Cliff; Aunt Sylvia; Aunt Janet; Aunt Debbie; Mom; Uncle Fish; Uncle Alex; Uncle Carey; Aunt Retha and Tyiene have all left the village in the physical. These are just some of my relatives from down-the-way. An interesting conversation I could have- about how the neighborhood has transformed- would be one with my Uncle Lem, who has witnessed how the culture has changed over time in West Philly.
Where are they now; Prophets of the Ghetto; “SPIKE;” “MAD;” ANS Crew; TEF; PDF; the Blackwells, and Uncle Mike’s friend from 40th and Baring Streets that used to sit in the chair all day-whose house was “settler-colonized” as well. Finally getting to talk to my Uncle Lem, I realized that it was several years since I last spoke with him. When one misses a family reunion in my family they miss out on a lot. The last time I spoke with him was in 2012 when he was running for office-right before I moved to 22nd Street and Lehigh Avenue. I asked uncle Lem about where the Black Panthers and John Africa’s of my generation were. He replied, “The drugs created a lot of conflict within the culture which led to violence in our communities and neighborhoods.” I agree! The focus of my generation and the generation thereafter has shifted to a senseless whirlwind of confusion. To create change in the Black community stellar folk have to consistently be that change. Even as the act of being a catalyst for change is an intra-cultural revolutionary act in and of itself, a balance of action must be obtained to work out a compromise of some sort on the community level between factions for the sake of cultural solidarity. Will the next John Africa please stand up, so the public can take notice of healthy diets, environmentalism, and awareness of police brutality against the Black community?
Running out of the house to get into a waiting car I noticed a European gentleman conversing with my neighbor about some election literature they were discussing. In a hurry, I introduced myself to the gentleman, extended my contact information to him, and told him, “I’ll get in contact with you. The candidate was familiar with the organization I work for, so he may have an idea about the conversation I plan to have with him. This August there will be a special election to fill a state representative slot in Pennsylvania’s 195th district. The candidates are Donna Bullock and Adam Lang. Thus far I have never seen Donna Bullock , and I find it ironic that Lang can be found canvassing the streets of the bottom, but his opponent is nowhere in my sight. Black communities should have Black politicians that represent the community, by way of disseminating information, and providing hands-on community building opportunities such representatives should help communities become self-sustaining. West Philadelphia is a community that has remained on the waiting list to get restructured, for investments and improvements have been made, however, how have these changes affected the overall well-being of the community? Through the promotion of and encouraging the creation of community member owned businesses, business will be in a position to hire community members that otherwise travel to suburbia, across town, or even out of state to find gainful employment.
Political districts that are historically Black are facing displacement as “hood-hoppers” and “settler-colonists” wrestle for prime property lots and opportunities to control the restructuring of West Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The election of a non-black candidate will disrupt the natural order of how politics (war without bloodshed) were handled in Black communities. In the absence of non-critical thought what remains obvious is that Black communities in West Philadelphia have remained in their status quo. Essentially some lack-luster politicians have performed a mediocre job of propelling the culture forward in West Philadelphia. It would be impossible locally to have peace and all community members adequately getting their needs met at the same time. This brings me to farce of the Philadelphia tax that in estimate is roughly a bill that competes with the same costs of public transportation to work or even a monthly cell phone bill-bi-weekly. The bureaucratic methods used to captivate Philadelphia’s residents must be challenged. Does Bullock or Lang have the fortitude to address issues, get issues resolved, or organize and mobilize community members’ effort, perspectives and capital to gain foreground in an emerging totalitarian atmosphere. Moreover, the election of a non-black politician constitutes a revolutionary act; such action would further mark an era of retrograde and reactionary politics in an area of Black human activity.
West Philadelphia needs to see cultural progress, but can progress exist beyond dialectical materialism, especially while countering the factors that necessitates the public’s insatiable desire for the commoditization of goods. Hope is what Obama brought to the bottom, but what has the hope materialized into. As I have returned to the neighborhood at the concluding years of Obama’s tenure in the White House I search vigorously for the change that was to take place. I voted for Obama at the church on 41st and Brown Sts in 2008. The era of Obama’s name repeated on the “A-Milli” beat, Hope posters of Obama by Obey, and the hiatus of imperial Casanova persuaders has produced an effect in West Philadelphia. For starters the physical landscape has remained the same with the exception of Imperial Casanova Persuaders resurfacing. Hope that some community members possessed turned into despair as opportunities for economic advancement are not existent. What I hope for is the creation of Black owned businesses in my neighborhood that supports and employs the community. Now there are Black owned businesses if one classifies the infamous Chinese sand Dominican stores, yet these venues are not in the practice of equal opportunity employment. Further, given the tax breaks that immigrant merchants receive, there is no tax base in the inner city. This translates to an inquiry of whether or not owning and operating a business is tangible for Blacks.
As a community member I believe cultural progress highlights the strength of a culture to sustain itself by growing and selling food; making and selling clothes; building and selling homes; and making medical innovations for self-care. If successful cultural and ethnic minorities exist in America’s inner cities their blueprint to success should be shared. When Black kids attend public schools they are often encouraged (socialized) to leave the neighborhood or more proverbially “get out of the hood” when they become successful-to seek the materializing of their dreams and goals, yet where will they go? Ironically, one may have the skills and wherewithal to affect change the world over, but what is there to be said of such individuals that can impact and influence the world but appear asinine in their immediate community. The age of Ben Carson’s rhetoric and notions of rugged individualism are dead and as community members of West Philadelphia we must erect a rigid set of standards for community living, community building, and living peacefully in solidarity. Several reputable blueprints have been provided for us to create a cultural platform with, but who will rise to the challenge; who are these community members; and where are the Stakeholders of Black culture now?
Les membres dynamiques et actifs de la société civile de Mauritanie viennent s'inscrire au réseau de ATTN. Zeinabou Taleb Moussa vient rejoindre le groupe de Mauritaniens à ATTN et l'effectif est de cinq Mauritaniens et tenez vous vous bien une excellente présence du genre (Hawa Sidibé, Siniya Haidara et Zeinabou Taleb Moussa pour les femmes et du côté des hommes au nombre de 2, Mohamed Abdellahi Ould EYIL et Moctar Mamadou Diallo soit un effectif de 5 membres pour les Mauritaniens. Je me félicite de l'engouement des Mauritaniens de venir élargir la famille ATTN. Bravo aux femmes de Mauritanie toutes membres de la Société civile dont je suis le Point Focal.
A mon nom et à celui du coordinateur du réseau de ATTN Mr Barassou Diawara et son Staff, nous souhaitons à Seniya Haidara la bienvenue. Seniya est une brillante actrice de la SC dévolue à la cause des populations.
Nous félicitations ton inscription au réseau ATTN et nous espérons que tu saisras toutes les opportunités et avantages qu'offre ce réseau pour ton intérêt et celui des membres de ton organisation. Nous te souhaitons de faire bon usage et nous te réitèrons nos félicitations.
Me Moctar Mamadou Diallo, Point Focal de la SC de Mauritanie tele, 00222 46793748
Quel plaisir de voir parmi les membres de ATTN deux Mauritaniens notamment Mr Mohamed Yahya OULD EL EYIL Yahya et Mme Hawa Sidibé deux acteurs dynamiques de la Société Civile de Mauritanie qui sont connus pour leurs engagements citoyens et leurs dynamismes dans les appuis apportés à nos populations pour leurs apporter un bien être et les sortir de la précarité.
En ma qualité de Point Focal de la SC de Mauritanie et ma proximité avec ces deux acteurs qui sont en plus d'être des confrères sont mes amis, ce qui nous amène à collaborer et faire oeuvre commune dans le cadre du Réseau ATTN Mauritanie pour constituer une force de proposition contributive pour le développement de ATTN/Pays (Mauritanie).
Me Moctar Mamadou Diallo: Point Focal de la SC de Mauritanie
On April 6-8, 2015, the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) of the University of Pennsylvania and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) organized the Second Africa Think Tanks Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The main objective was to offer an opportunity for Africa’s think tanks to take a step back and consider the implications of the new dynamism taking place in the continent on the nature and content of their work.
One of the critical issues in the agenda of the Summit was to reflect on how Africa’s think tanks can best support Africa’s development priorities as reflected in the 2063 Agenda and Africa’s position in shaping the post-2015 agenda.
The post-2015 SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063 are aspirational goals stretching into the long term, leaving countries with space to seek their own paths. While the SDGs are global, Africa’s Agenda 2063 is the continent’s common vision, laying out an African-centered agenda, breaking from the past where development thinking on the continent was shaped by non-African agendas.
Within this framework, African think tanks can play a critical role as organizations designed for and capable of long-term thinking and reflection. Here, the transformation of Africa should be central to think tank agendas, helping the governments of the continent better position Africa in relation to the world, by offering bold ideas, optimism about the future, and changing the prevailing pessimistic impressions about the continent.
Insights offered by Summit participants covered some practical aspects of this scenario:
- Not all actors, both in Government and civil society, are fully aware of Agenda 2063 and its importance in shaping Africa’s future. Many perceive that it was prepared as a top-down effort from the African Union with little “grassroot” relevance. Think tanks have a role to play in moving Agenda 2063 out of the confines of the African Union, and helping to ensure that all Africans embrace it as a common vision. These actors can also help institutions assess the capacity Africa requires for its development over the coming years. Finally, they can formulate strategies and other conceptual entry points to promote the vision’s success.
- Think tanks could strategize how best to bring women and youth to the center stage in discussions regarding the future of the continent. They can look into the role of technology, and how to maximize its benefits for society. Think tanks can assess future leadership capacities- transforming educational paradigms to propel the country’s development forward, and the skills for achieving greater leaps in technology.
- While acknowledging the challenges faced by policy makers, who must navigate competing policy needs, think tanks could also address the demands of policy development. Think Tanks could extend their target audiences beyond formal policy makers to reach other critical decision-makers and agenda setters – informal leaders in the public sphere, private sector and the broader civil society. Ultimately the nation’s citizens are the voters who keep political parties in power. To bring civil society to the table, think tanks need to speak in a language the people understand, and help them appreciate the value of think tanks to the national development efforts as both influencers and catalysts of public opinion.
- When people do not understand their institutions, they will not benefit from them. Rather than reinforcing values and institutional constructs brought in from colonial times, African think tanks could lead in articulating an African approach and viewpoint, to help shape African institutions around an African cultural identity.
The vision of Agenda 2063 should be an aspiration that corresponds to an ambition and opportunity for think tanks. Think tanks could aim to liberate the African people to ‘think big.’ However, for such a liberation, think tanks need to define the transformative proposal with clarity, taking advantage of the major trends to help provide a thorough understanding of the agenda.
The First Africa Think Tank Summit was held in Pretoria, South Africa, on the theme: Think tanks and the Transformation of Africa. The Summit was co-organized in Pretoria, South Africa, on February 3-5, 2014 by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP), and the African Leadership Centre (ALC). The Pretoria Summit was followed by the Second Africa Think Tanks Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa Summit was organized on April 6-8, 2015 by ACBF and TTCSP, and hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The theme of the Second Africa Think Tank Summit was the Rise of Africa’s Think Tanks – Practical Solutions to Practical Problems.
Both Summits offered an opportunity for Africa’s think tanks to exchange ideas and experiences on various strategic issues and consider the implications of the new dynamism taking place on the continent regarding the nature and breadth of their work. Both the Summits recognized the need for Africa’s think thanks to pay attention on new media and technology.
Discussions during the Summits recommended African think tanks to take advantage of the major potential that new media and technology offer. Such technology could provide think tanks with valuable tools for more effective communication and dissemination of research useful in engaging key stakeholders. Social media also has the capacity of creating dialogue among diverse groups and fostering organic and innovative solutions.
New media offers an opportunity to target policymakers. Think tanks are therefore advised to use publication means such as monographs, or multimedia forms to communicate the most important recommendations from their research. Technology also provides think tanks a platform to reach out more effectively to potential donors.
Recommendations from the First Summit recognized that while technology has much to offer, it must be used strategically and appropriately in order to reach different groups: social media may reach a younger contingency, online publications another, and TV and radio a third. It was emphasized that radio as a tool for dissemination can be particularly effective, especially in less-resourced areas. As a number of think tanks simply do not have the resources to connect to this new technology, it was suggested that think tanks form partnerships, which would facilitate sharing.
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