Getting set for school

PCHR helped train hundreds of principals on bullying and harassment issues as part of back-to-school prep offered by the School District of Philadelphia, held at Benjamin Franklin High School on Friday.

The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Anti-Defamation League joined PCHR at the principals’ summit.

Classes are set to begin in September, but recent funding woes has curtailed certainty on the opening date.

Deputy Director Randy Duque presents before 300 principals at the School District of Philadelphia's annual get-set prep.

Deputy Director Randy Duque presents before 300 principals at the School District of Philadelphia’s annual get-set prep.

That didn’t stop Deputy Director Randy Duque from reviewing the type of support PCHR can offer principals when they resume their desks. That might be matching them with the right resources to diffuse or even help in preventing conflicts between groups. And the audience leaned in to grab every word.

“PCHR has a history working with the school district, with good results,” Duque said. “And we’re always ready to assist schools in promoting peace and restoring safety when called upon.”

Last school year, there were 660 assaults reported in Philadelphia public schools, according to district figures. With funding uncertainty looming, many in the city fear that such incidents could tick upward.

Recent history has shown that arguments – between students, parents, or other adults in a community – that begin at the neighborhood level sometimes can spill into the school, jeopardizing safety and harming student-to-student relations.

Helping to stem school violence at times may start outside of the school, but with insight from principals, disputes can be nipped at the source, Duque said.

“This time with the principals helps advance the Community Relation Division’s mission, getting out there and letting people know what we have done and can do,” he said. “Many of the principals in the district may be new and not as familiar with us and our work. This was a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to them, and to re-introduce ourselves to their more seasoned peers.

“It’s all about building relationships in the community. That’s why the CRD team will be out this fall, visiting schools and seeing how we can strengthen those community ties,” Duque added.

Securing LGBT employment rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama took a strong step today to end discrimination against the nation’s LGBTQ workforce – and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was among those in the room at the White House to witness it.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment, an inspiring moment for equality for all,” Landau said. “This sets an important standard, because too often, people can still lose their jobs simply because of whom they love or how they identify themselves. By affirming these as fundamental human expressions, the president has helped to define what ‘equality for all’ truly means.”

President Obama signs executive orders to protect federal LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.

President Obama signs executive orders to protect federal LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.

President Obama issued an update to both Executive Order 11246 and Executive Order 11478, bolstering the rights of federal LGBTQ employees.

The first order originally was issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and now, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Religiously-affiliated contractors are allowed certain exemptions.

The update covers federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors doing more than $10,000 in government business annually. The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will oversee and enforce the law.

The second order, initially issued by President Nixon, bans discrimination against federal employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. President Clinton updated the order to include sexual orientation, and now President Obama has added gender identity.

The executive orders fill a legislative gap. There are no current federal laws that clearly protect LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination.

While Philadelphia has some of the best LGBTQ protection laws in the nation, Pennsylvania does not.

Just 18 states and the District of Columbia explicit have laws that protect LGBTQ workers from losing their jobs due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is in spite of the fact that some 9 in 10 Forbes 500 companies ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and 6 in 10 prohibit gender identity discrimination.

A simple photograph on a desk can be enough to cost someone a job in some cases.

“Our economy grows best not from the top-down, but from the middle-out.  We do better when the middle class does better,” President Obama said during his most recent weekly address to the nation. “We have to make sure our economy works for every working American. Across lots of areas – energy, manufacturing, technology – our businesses and workers are leading again.”

With his actions on Monday, he intends for those ranks to include LGBTQ workers as well.

Celebrating diversity: Ramadan 2014 in Philadelphia

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Garner juggles a lot as a civic-minded entrepreneur, and has been particularly busy on another front as of late – helping to strengthen ties between the city’s Muslim population and the broader public.

Councilman Jones and Saadiq Garner

City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. shares a word with PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Garner during the 2nd Annual Philadelphia City Hall Iftar.

This week, he did so by participating in a public Iftar – or, breaking of fast – hosted by City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr.  This is the midway point of Ramadan, the annual time of prayer, fasting, and personal reflection observed by Muslims throughout the world.

The Iftar usually occurs privately among family and friends in homes, but this public event helped to offer yet another example of the city’s commitment to its roots of religious and cultural tolerance, Garner said.

“Philadelphia is a place where building community means encompassing everybody, and the engagement of Muslims at such an event in City Hall shows that the presence is strong and respected,” he said.

At Tuesday’s Iftar, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown were among the many elected officials in attendance, where dozens of people of all faiths gathered. Meanwhile, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society hosted an interfaith Iftar, featuring Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders — with plenty of discussion about world affairs, such as events in Syria and Gaza, and a lot of good food.

The Greater Philadelphia area is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Americans who practice Islam, with Philadelphia ranking fourth among the top 10 U.S. cities with highest Muslim populations.

During Ramadan, Muslims are called to engage in acts of charity, and many heeded that call last Saturday as the Council on American-Islamic Relations powered a produce drive in conjunction with Philabundance and the Masjidullah Center for Human Excellence. Organizers wanted to encourage participants to be more thoughtful than just grabbing a dented can or an old bag of beans from the pantry, asking instead for cabbage, carrots, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes and oranges.

Masjids — houses of worship — across the city responded, donating some 3,850 pounds of fruits and vegetables.

Amatullah Brown (l.), a 15-year-old Central High School student, joins her friend Noor Borwman (r.), a 13-year-old PA Cyber Charter School student, in hoisting some of the produce donations amassed by area Muslims as part of Ramadan.

Amatullah Brown (l.), a 15-year-old Central High School student, joins her friend Noor Borwman (r.), a 13-year-old PA Cyber Charter School student, in hoisting some of the produce donations amassed by area Muslims as part of Ramadan.

The donations went to Upper Room Mission in the Ogontz section of town. Hundreds of people received meals made from the food as well as others who took bags of produce home.

“This is God’s work, showing what Islam is all about,” said Dr. Katera Y. Moore of CAIR-Philadelphia. “We’re Muslims, but we raised money for food that was donated to a church. Hunger is a social issue, a political issue, one that hits everybody – Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist, everybody.”

These kinds of acts, standard in observances of Ramadan, seldom get mainstream attention, allowing caricatures and stereotypes to pervade, Garner said. But this season, area Muslims made a concerted effort to increase the visibility of their contributions among their neighbors, to increase understanding.

“Sometimes you hear so many negative things about Islam, and people in areas where there isn’t as strong of a Muslim presence go by what they hear,” Garner said. “But an event like this kills off the negativity and highlights the diversity among Muslims and their way of life.

“It’s not about terrorists, or right-wing thinkers or left-wing thinkers. It’s about people who understand Islam properly and are benefiting from it and sharing that positivity.”

Global scholars learn from PCHR

On Monday, PCHR laid out how diversity and inclusion plays a significant, and legally protected, role in Philadelphia government for some two dozen visiting college students from the Middle East touring the United States.

PCHR represented one of three city agencies participating in the Dialogue Institute’s 2014 Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders on Religious Pluralism and Democracy in the United States. The attending students hailed from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, among other nations. Philadelphia was among one of several stops in their program, which included checking in with policy makers in New York and Washington D.C.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Deputy Directors Reynelle Brown Staley and Randy Duque shared the mission and role of PCHR, while Patricia Coyne, veteran community relations representative, offered a review of past PCHR cases.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau chats with one of the two dozen visiting scholars participating in the Dialogue Institute's municipal education program.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau chats with one of the two dozen visiting scholars participating in the Dialogue Institute’s municipal education program.

The visit was coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs and also featured a presentation from the city’s Commerce Department.

Deputy Director Randy Duque leans in to share insights about PCHR's role in the city -- and the lives of immigrants living here.

Deputy Director Randy Duque leans in to share insights about PCHR’s role in the city — and the lives of immigrants living here.

Each agency offered insight into how they assist new Philadelphians get settled and integrated into the city, from the basics to the legal side of things – and personal reflections on life as an immigrant as well.

“I had worked for city government for a while, but when I saw the Mexican flag raised over City Hall,” said Fernando Treviño, MOIMA deputy executive director, “I was proud, proud, proud. And we’re looking for ways to share that feeling with other communities.”

In fact, a similar flag-raising for Liberia is in the works, a gesture of symbolic healing, considering the sizable population of Liberians here and recent tragedies that have beset it.

The fact that 12 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born and the outsized impact immigrants here have on founding flourishing enterprises piqued attention. Questions from students sought to glean opinions on the current immigration reform debate raging across the nation, as well as the steps needed to become U.S. citizens. Their majors ranged from medicine to business management.

“I didn’t know what we were going to find out when we came,” said Jad Saheb, a 19-year-old Lebonese business management major at American University. “ But I learned a lot. I am looking forward to learning more.”

PCHR closing its North Philadelphia branch

PHILADELPHIA, July 10, 2014 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will relocate its operations and staff from its North Philadelphia branch to its Center City headquarters, effective July 18.

The PCHR branch had operated in the basement of the Lillian Marrero branch library at 601 W. Lehigh Ave. The Free Library of Philadelphia has plans to renovate the branch in the future.
 
“This is a matter of effective streamlining and bringing all our resources under one roof, not abandoning our commitment or service to the community,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “We’ll be as present and available as ever, if not more so, as a result of this move.”
 
All PCHR operations will be consolidated at its offices at the Curtis Building, 601 Walnut St., Suite 300.
 
PCHR will continue to accept all intake and others seeking information and help as it relates to enforcement of and education about the city’s civil rights laws and resolving intergroup conflicts.

For more, call (215) 686-4670.

PCHR celebrates America, Philadelphia’s civil rights history

PCHR and the Farmer family joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and dozens of dignitaries to celebrate and kick off the latest exhibit at the Philadelphia International Airport as part of the 2014 Wawa Welcome America! festivities.

Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened on July 2, the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this life-changing legislation.

PCHR, Farmer family celebrate civil rights

PCHR Commissioners Saadiq Garner, Alfredo Calderon and Chairman Thomas Earle, with PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and members of Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family, including great-grandson Christopher Woodard Jr., granddaughter Helen Farmer , niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, Christopher Woodard Sr., granddaughter Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, great-granddaughter Morgan Woodard, and Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman. Photo courtesy of Jim McWilliams Photography.

The exhibit pays homage to Philadelphia’s extensive and historic role in the struggle for civil and human rights, as well as highlights its continued legacy. From pushing for the rights of people of color and women to ensuring dignity and fair treatment for LGBT people, Philadelphia has been on the forefront since the nation’s founding,

PCHR celebrates Philly LGBT history

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Philadelphia Gay News publisher and legendary LGBT advocate Mark Segal, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s LGBT history at the latest Philadelphia Airport photo exhibit, Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

That story is documented in a series of archival and contemporary photographs in Terminal A in the airport. One of the featured shots is of iconic former PCHR Chair Clarence Farmer Sr., who died earlier this year.

His niece, the Hon. Carolyn H. Nichols, granddaughters, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard and Helen Farmer, and great-grandchildren, Chris Woodard Jr. and Morgan, helped commemorate his contributions to the continued effort of making Philadelphia a city welcome for all.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

Others recognized for their contributions to advancing the work of civil and human rights include Mark Segal, longtime LGBT activist and publisher of the decorated Philadelphia Gay News; Wei Chen, a youth organizer who was instrumental in the South Philadelphia High School student response to bullying of Asian students; and Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon, founders of Project HOME.

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Another view on independence: Reflections on the Underground Railroad

In time for the Fourth of July holiday, PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks drew attention to the Underground Railroad — that storied 19th century interstate passage to freedom for countless African Americans held in bondage whose “trains” included stops in Philadelphia. Residents here — from the formerly enslaved to abolitionists — played a vital role in “conducting” this human-powered network of conscience and freedom, masterminding escape routes and raising money for the cause.

For Ricks, it was fitting at this time of year to focus on our responsibility to preserving and advancing the history and legacy of these heroes as the nation prepares to celebrate its Independence Day. She elaborated on this in a letter to the Chestnut Hill Local in its July 2 edition:

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

Underground Railroad history deserves better

Philadelphia’s anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history is just as fascinating as the events celebrated on 4th of July. This American history should be more accessible to tourists.

Philadelphia’s African-American leaders had significant roles in the abolitionist movement. Former slave Richard Allen founded the Mother Bethel Church and, with his wife Sarah, was involved in hiding, retraining, and educating freedom-seeking slaves, sometimes using the church as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Wealthy Robert Purvis devoted most of his time to the largely African-American “vigilance” organizations founded to aid fugitive slaves. James Forten, a wealthy sail maker, supported abolition by buying the freedom of slaves, financing William Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper and operating an Underground Railroad station.

An interracial group – including Forten’s wife and three daughters and Lucretia Mott – founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. William Still recorded interviews with hundreds of escaping slaves and published those accounts in his book “The Underground Railroad” . . ..

Read the entire letter here.