Snapshot: Northwest look at opening day for Philly public schools

Monday not only started a new week but a new school year for students, parents, educators and staff of the School District of Philadelphia. After a summer roiled with budget uncertainty, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. opened schools with admittedly diminished resources, from supplies to personnel.

Dozens respond to the second annual call for a community unity prayer for opening day at Martin Luther King High School.

Dozens respond to the second annual call for a community unity prayer for opening day at Martin Luther King High School.

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PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque takes a moment with state Rep. Dwight Evans.

nw_opening_day_090814 Community members and civic leaders were determined to help students usher in the 2014-15 school year on the right note, as many gathered across the city to walk children along familiar routes, as well as new ones, to school. Closures issued to help curb budget deficits have scattered dozens of student bodies of now-defunct buildings.

Such is the case at Martin Luther King High School in Northwest Philadelphia, which has absorbed many students displaced by the 2013 closing of Germantown High School. So dozens of concerned supporters gathered for a sunrise program to show their support for students there for a second year in row.

Fears of turf battles and other friction that could lead to violent outburst were countered by a locked-arms group prayer for unity and peace, led by the Rev. Alyn E. Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. While the symbolic gestures was focused on those in the Northwest part of town, it’s a shared sentiment across the city.

The Northwest Community Coalition for Youth organized the event that included Safe Corridors, Protecting our Futures, Northwest Victims Services, My Brother’s Keeper and the office of state Rep. Dwight Evans. Deputy Director Randy Duque represented PCHR at the interfaith event.

Global glimpses: Iraqi delegation exchange

PCHR helped host a delegation of Iraqi visitors traveling the United States as part of a broader interfaith dialogue, spending time in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Thursday before heading to New York to continue their tour. Commissioners Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Marshall Freeman engaged the group during activities in City Hall on Wednesday while PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque helped the group understand the mission and interworkings of PCHR during a Thursday visit.

Iraqi delegation in Philadelphia

Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner offers greetings and opening words — in Arabic and English — in City Hall’s Conversation Hall to an Iraqi delegation via the International Visitor Leadership Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia.

 

 

Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner listens intently to the perspective of Rev. Msgr. Michael Carroll during an interfaith dialogue discussion with an Iraqi delegation in Philadelphia.

Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner listens intently to the perspective of Rev. Msgr. Michael Carroll during an interfaith dialogue with an Iraqi delegation in Philadelphia.

Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, subbing for Mayor Michael A. Nutter, offers Imam Barzan Barn Rashid a commemorative gift on behalf of the city – a replica Liberty Bell.

Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, subbing for Mayor Michael A. Nutter, offers Imam Barzan Barn Rashid a commemorative gift on behalf of the city – a replica Liberty Bell.

Imam Barzan Barn Rashid (l.) discusses fundraising efforts for widows, orphans and others displaced post-war in Iraq during a visit to PCHR.

Imam Barzan Barn Rashid (l.) discusses fundraising efforts for widows, orphans and others displaced in post-war Iraq during a visit to PCHR.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) shares a laugh with Iraqi magazine editor Abbas Radhi Al’A’amiri, no translation necessary.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) shares a laugh with Iraqi magazine editor Abbas Radhi Al’A’amiri — no translation necessary.

Pumping up protection: Enactment of Philadelphia’s breastfeeding accommodation law

On Wednesday, Mayor Michael A. Nutter enacted legislation that directly will impact the lives of Philadelphia’s nursing mothers and their families.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter enacts Bill No. 130922, ensuring breastfeeding accommodation in Philadelphia workplaces, witnessed by (l-r) Saniah R. Johnson, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Councilman David Oh, Rue Landau, Carol Fischer and Letizia Amadini Lane, vice president and global head, Employee Value Proposition, Office of CEO and Corporate Strategy, GSK. Photo courtesy Kait Pritivera.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter enacts Bill No. 130922, ensuring breastfeeding accommodation in Philadelphia workplaces, witnessed by (l-r) Saniah M. Johnson, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Councilman David Oh, Rue Landau, Carol Fischer and Letizia Amadini Lane, vice president and global head, Employee Value Proposition, Office of CEO and Corporate Strategy, GSK. Photo courtesy Kait Pritivera.

Before an audience of lawmakers, advocates, industry and civic leaders, the mayor signed Bill No. 130922, making it mandatory for all businesses to provide a safe, private and sanitary space for female employees who need to pump milk from their breasts.

A cross-section of Philadelphia came out to celebrate the signing of Bill No. 1309222 including (l-r) corporate and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. leader Lorina Marshall, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, civic and Zeta Phi Beta leader Saniah M. Johnson, Hillary Emerson of state Rep. Cherelle Parker’s office, Maternity Care Coalition Executive Director JoAnne Fischer, GSK Vice President Letizia Amadini Lane, PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, Amal Bass, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Councilman David Oh, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Women’s Law Project Carol Tracy, Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition members Bonnie Higgins-Esplund and Lisa McCloskey with PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman.

A cross-section of Philadelphia came out to celebrate the signing of Bill No. 1309222 including (l-r) corporate and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. leader Lorina Marshall Blake, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, civic and Zeta Phi Beta leader Saniah M. Johnson, Maternity Care Coalition Executive Director JoAnne Fischer, GSK Vice President Letizia Amadini Lane, PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, Amal Bass, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Councilman David Oh, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Women’s Law Project Carol Tracy, Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition members Bonnie Higgins-Esplund and Lisa McCloskey with PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman.

The legislation, authored by City Councilman David Oh, takes effect immediately and its enforcement falls to PCHR.

“This is an incredibly important day because now PCHR has a new tool to use to ensure that the rights of all workers are respected,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, who emceed the bill signing ceremony. She had testified on the merits of the legislation during hearings last June.

“Before when we would receive these kinds of complaints, they fell under the broader term of ‘sex discrimination,’ which is more difficult to investigate and prove,” Landau said. “Now, there is a clear mandate for employers and employees, so that everyone understands what is required. And women should no longer be afraid to assert their rights. This is the law. Clear and simple.”

Complaints should be filed with PCHR. Fines up to $2,000 may be issued to those who break the law.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau speaks about the benefits and consequences of the new breastfeeding accommodation law. Photo courtesy Kait Privitera.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau speaks about the benefits and consequences of the new breastfeeding accommodation law. Photo courtesy Kait Privitera.

Breastfeeding has clear scientific benefits for children, including preventing illness. Nationally, 1 in 3 parents of young children fear losing pay or their jobs should they take off to care for sick children, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan and the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Still, being able to express milk at work without ridicule, stress or harassment has been an ongoing concern for women, said JoAnne Fischer, executive director of the Maternity Care Coalition.

Nursing mothers often have abandoned breastfeeding once they return to work, facing difficulties ranging from scheduling pumping breaks to unsupportive and even abusive co-workers and supervisors.

In Pennsylvania, only about 32 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants during their first three months; by six months, that tally dropped to about 16 percent, nearly half, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Now women don’t have to make a choice between doing what’s best for their children and returning to work,” said Letizia Amadini Lane, GSK vice president of employee value proposition. “They can lead and live a great life, a balanced life.”

The global pharmaceutical giant with Philadelphia offices already has instituted quiet nursing areas for mothers who need to express milk, and Amadini Lane urged the city’s other corporate citizens to follow GSK’s lead and applauded the enactment.

The legislation, she added, “is the right thing to do for children, who are our leaders of tomorrow and for mothers, who are our leaders of today.”

Watch the event.

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Looking at labor, with a Latino lens

PCHR joined a host of social and civic agencies at the invitation of the Mexican Consulate to offer migrant workers and residents a broader understanding of rights and services available to them.

It came as part of a full-day presentation to close out Labor Rights Week 2014. The annual event targets the burgeoning Mexican population in the region, particularly in South Philadelphia, where the demographics are changing every year.

“The community is growing, but it’s scattered, and it’s hard to get to people unless it’s a festival. And a festival means a party, and it’s hard to get information to people if they’re focusing on having a good time,” said Nancy Rivera, a PCHR compliance supervisor.

“Some people are shy or afraid to seek information,” she said. “This event is a way that allows people who may normally come to the consulate for visa or other immigration issues to also get a sense of what other agencies and services may be available to them.”

PCHR bilingual staffers Nancy Rivera and Veronica Szymanski educate hundreds about civil rights and fair housing law at the Mexican Consulate during Labor Rights Week.

PCHR bilingual staffers Nancy Rivera and Veronica Szymanski educate hundreds about civil rights and fair housing law at the Mexican Consulate during Labor Rights Week.

Rivera teamed up with Veronica Szymanski, veteran PCHR community relations representative, to share details about the city’s civil rights and fair housing laws, as well as steps to take if someone thinks their rights may have been violated.

Neighborhood disputes often arise when immigrants and migrant workers move into a community, and many are too fearful to file complaints, Szymanski said.

“They stay quiet, even when they’re harassed,” she said. “When they talk to us, they’re still quiet at first, but then they warm up when we start speaking. After we give our presentation, then you’ll see one or two, and then more, come to the table with questions.”

Overall, some 200 people passed through the doors and participated.

“Being able to talk with them, in simple terms, in Spanish, letting them know they can call us and how to reach us, it meant a lot,” Rivera added.

(l-r) Marla L. Soffer of the Galfand and Berger Law Offices, Jorge Armando Tuddon Meza of the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, Davis H. Schraeger of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and PCHR’s Nancy Rivera and Veronica Szymanski.

(l-r) Marla L. Soffer of the Galfand and Berger Law Offices, Jorge Armando Tuddon Meza of the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia, Davis H. Schraeger of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and PCHR’s Nancy Rivera and Veronica Szymanski.

Focusing on Ferguson

It’s hard to absolutely declare which was the most disturbing component of the unrest the world witnessed in Ferguson, Mo., a hamlet north of Saint Louis. That national tragedy served as the subtext for a digital town hall hosted Monday by Clear Channel Philadelphia, where an intimate gathering of some 30 people of various ages and backgrounds came to discuss Ferguson and its aftermath.

PCHR was among the participants, with a delegation including Commissioners Marshall E. Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau.

Ferguson town hall panel

A set of activists and civic leaders gathered for a town hall meeting sponsored by Clear Channel Philadelphia. (l-r) Allison Pokras, executive director of Operation Understanding; author and journalist Solomon Jones; PCHR’s Rue Landau; educational consultant Andrea Lawful-Trainer; Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel; and the Rev. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Loraine Ballard Morrill moderated.

In addition to Landau, the panel opening the dialogue featured Allison Pokras, executive director of Operation Understanding; author and journalist Solomon Jones; educational consultant Andrea Lawful-Trainer; Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel; and the Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Veteran public affairs director Loraine Ballard Morrill moderated the hour-long discussion that drew insights not just from panelists, but also an array of students, parents, law enforcement officers, educators and activists.

“What we saw in Ferguson is not indicative of what we see in policing,” said Bethel, who came to the discussion flanked with a multi-hued set of officers. “What has to happen from this conversation is a continuous dialogue. We have a responsibility to get out in the community and touch people in a positive way.”

The town hall streamed live from 4 to 5 p.m. on three web sites – WDASFM.com, Power99.com and MixPhiladelphia.com. Excerpts also will be featured on all six Clear Channel Philadelphia stations on Sunday morning, beginning at 6 a.m.

Different events in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death under questionable circumstances have sparked anxieties. For some, the trigger was the prospect of an unarmed citizen being gunned down in the street and his body left to lay uncovered in a pool of his own blood. For others, it was the allegation that an unruly 18-year-old willingly charged an officer.

Still, for many Americans and those who look to this nation as a model democracy, visuals of police in tanks brandishing tear gas, rubber bullets and sound cannons against peaceful protestors coupled with those of people stripping area stores of their goods shook confidences.

Had the officer in question simply had been arrested after the shooting incident, there would be less room to question the motives or actions afterwards, said the Rev. Jacobus Nomdoe, a pastor visiting from South Africa. He said perceptions of a justice system stacked against black people is a familiar topic, and it was disappointing to see America follow a path that he and people in his country proved years ago had no good end.

“If he had been arrested, there would have been some kind of peace,” Nomdoe said. “If the process had started, on that day. It didn’t.”

Scenes from Ferguson, MO. Photo courtesy: Michael B. Thomas, Agency France Presse.

Scenes from Ferguson, MO. Photo courtesy: Michael B. Thomas, Agency France Presse.

That was at the heart of the frustration and disgust high school students in the audience expressed.

Some recounted daily brushes with prejudice and racism, especially those who live and attend school in predominantly white areas. They said they now feel less confident that justice would prevail if they found themselves in similar circumstances as Michael Brown – citing incidents such as the Trayvon Martin slaying, the death of Eric Garner in New York City and other reports of deaths involving unarmed black men and police.

Chiquilla M. Holt, a mother of two teens, said she understood their apprehensions.

“The fear that they are expressing is real,” Holt said. “As black people, we have to prove we’re OK. You have to prove you’re not a thug, that you’re not a threat. We can’t escape it.

“So there’s a fear of excessive force, that any kind of interaction with the police can lead to being killed,” she said. “White people don’t have that fear because they will be given the benefit of the doubt.”

They were all cautioned by the panelists against hopelessness and bitterness. Instead, they were told to seek allies, white and otherwise.  Lawful-Trainer, for instance, said she joined in public conversations with young people, their parents and police in Abington, all of whom had concerns in wake of the Brown shooting. Alongside fellow civic leaders such as Jana Mallis of the Willow Grove NAACP, insightful exchanges are beginning.

“A lot of times you have allies in the room, but they are not sure what to say, so they stay quietly in the corner, not sure how they will be perceived,” Lawful-Trainer said. “You have to think about how you can get support. And we have to find a solution that will make young people feel safe.”

Philadelphia, with its history of being first-in-the-nation on so many fronts, could lead that charge and that change, Commissioner Garner told the assembled.

But that will require uncomfortable conversations to ensue, beyond the latest tragedy, the panel said.

Scary scenes from Ferguson. Photo courtesy Agency France Presse.

Scary scenes from Ferguson. Photo courtesy Agency France Presse.

Ferguson has sparked a series of public and private musings on race-based fears, economic inequality, responsible citizenship and law enforcement.  Sustained change means unpacking the hows and whys behind the distrust and dissatisfaction that could lead to such civil disturbance. And that requires honest introspection and preventative investment, Waller said. He paraphrased an observation of writer and philosopher Victor Hugo:

Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing instruction for all, and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.

“If brave people in power made the right decisions on the day of that event,” Waller said, “we may not have seen the violence that we saw.

“If we are going to fix this, we all in this community are going to have to take pieces of it, because we are all guilty of a Ferguson or the potential of a Ferguson, in an Abington or in a Lower Merion,” he said.

And active participation of white men in such action is critical, Waller added. Recent polling about the Brown incident shows a considerable chasm in opinion, breaking down largely on racial lines.

Rue Landau echoed the call for fuller engagement.

Getting to the heart of this matter would mean creating models for preventing negative interactions with other groups – whether stemming from bias based on language, disability – especially among the deaf and those struggling with seizures – or gender identity.

Commissioner Freeman shares closing thoughts with Loraine Ballard Morrill.

Commissioner Freeman shares closing thoughts with Loraine Ballard Morrill.

While any group could fill in the blank of the persecuted or abused, the Ferguson case reflects a Ground Zero. At its heart was an all-too familiar and unresolved American binary antagonism of black vs. white, she said.

“I’d like to call on people for individual accountability, that white people have to speak up, to stand up, to call out people on their racism and to actually use their power to make change as well,” Landau said. “Nothing is going to change until we all take steps moving forward. It’s been 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

“We should be further than we are now. We’ve made great moves and great strides, but we still have so much farther to go.”

Taney Dragons: Providing welcome relief for a city in need, at 70 m.p.h.

The Little Team that Could. Real-Life Rockies. Philly’s Best.

The monikers for the Taney Dragons and their star pitcher, Mo’ne Davis, continue to mount along with the spotlight at the 2014 Little League World Series.

After all, they are making history as the first team from Philadelphia ever to compete in the Little League World Series, featuring the first female pitcher to deliver a shutout game – able to sling balls at 70 mph.

This assortment of students, coming from all walks of life and from across the city, has gifted Philadelphia with more than thrilling baseball games. That can be seen in the attendees at the City Hall pep rallies hosted by Mayor Nutter, in the banter at SEPTA stops, in bars, in barbershops and nail salons.

Taney Dragons fans

Fans in this pop-up “Dragons’ Lair” in City Hall are as reflective of the team they cheer.

With every pitch and every hit, the city’s new favorite franchise has helped bring this town together. And Philly has returned the favor, wrapping its arms around these kids, and squeezing tightly.

Flag Lady to Dragon Lady

Brenda Exton — aka the Partners for Civic Pride’s “Philly Pride Lady” — is among the many on the “Dragon Wagon.”

“We’re talking about an inter-gender, interracial, inter-class team. They come from South Philly, Mount Airy, West Philly, all over, all kinds of backgrounds. It’s a real Philadelphia team,” said PCHR Commissioner Rebecca T. Alpert.  A Temple University professor and a rabbi, Alpert also is the author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball and a longtime fan of the sport.

“We have such deep, painful divides in Philadelphia. But watching these kids really gives you hope for the future. It gives you a sense that everything isn’t horrible,” she said. “They have brought us some relief, because it’s been a tough summer.”

There was the July 4th holiday inferno in Southwest Philadelphia that stole four Liberian-American babies and ushered in days of grief-stricken unrest.

Then there were the FBI arrests of members of Philadelphia Police Department’s elite narcotics squad on corruption charges. And the shooting death of a 3-year-old girl while she sat on a neighbor’s porch getting her hair braided in South Philly.

Plus, the ever-present cloud that has been the day-to-day drama of the School District of Philadelphia’s fate and fall opening has kept emotions topsy-turvy, students through principals.

And that’s just locally.

The slaying of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Missouri and the chokehold-induced death of unarmed Eric Garner in New York City also have helped heighten anxieties and darken moods this summer as some have come to question the application of law, let alone finding justice within it.

Enter the purity of amateur sport. Enter Little League.

It long has been symbolic of Americana, of community and possibility. Still, Little League imagery tends to conjure small towns, not bustling cities with all the deep and systemic problems found within them. But with their camaraderie, sportsmanship, determination and demeanor, the Taney Dragons have breathed more than fire on the baseball diamond. They have breathed renewed hope into a city wracked by weeks of devastating news.

Despite an early decisive win in the series, the Dragons dropped a game Wednesday night, leaving them less in control of their future. Now it’s play-or-go home as they gear up for their next game, facing another inspiring team, the all-African-American squad from Chicago – the Jackie Robinson West team.

The Dragons and Robinson West will meet on the baseball diamond in a double-elimination game Thursday night.  The winner advances to the U.S. championship game. The loser gets to cheer from the stands.

Mo'me Davis, star pitcher for the Taney Dragons, has inspired girls, boys, and adults alike with her talent and poise.

Mo’me Davis, star pitcher for the Taney Dragons, has inspired girls, boys, and adults alike with her talent and poise.

Whenever, wherever the ride ends, the journey this summer has been pure, unifying magic at a time and space when it sorely has been needed.

This Crayola assortment of students has offered a meaningful distraction, a chance to re-imagine what life could be like if everyone strove to live up to those Little League ideals of respect and fair play.

It is a team that has arisen from a city history forged as much by the scrappy Anderson Monarchs as by the dazzling Philadelphia Stars and the full scope of the Philadelphia Phillies, from the one of the last team in the majors to integrate to the rainbow squad that captured the 2008 World Series.

If anything, the Taney Dragons reflect the best of all of that, and some, Alpert said.

“They really seem like nice kids, and then they have this girl, who’s incredible,” she said. “They are really living out what I wish Philadelphia were like. Watching people watch them, how they’re interacting with each other, this is totally about human relations, how we treat one another.”

That makes this latest round of Philly sports fever that much more special, that much sweeter.

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.