Hooping for hope

PHILADELPHIA — Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo. Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Eric Garner in New York City. Victor Ortega in San Diego. Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City. Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Brandon Tate-Brown in Philadelphia. Now, most recently, Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Incidents of officer-involved shootings — particularly those resulting in the deaths of men of color — have drawn headlines and further frayed relations with many of the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. In some cases, retaliatory violence has erupted, leaving everyone from students to lawmakers on edge. That has been true in Philadelphia as well, where Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey requested a federal review a spate of officer-involved shootings, to help separate fact from fiction and push for more transparency.

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Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel leans into a conversation with young people at the Wright Rec Center in West Philadelphia.

Bridging the chasms caused by these realities has even greater importance — which is why PCHR has been front and center in crafting new partnerships to help create new narratives and outcomes. Veteran PCHR community relations representative Patricia Coyne took an active role in the diverse coalition that’s charting a new way for Philadelphia.

And the coalition chose a familiar entry point for the stakeholders involved — a neighborhood basketball game.

Some 150 people poured into Mantua’s James Wright Recreation Center on May 4 to inaugurate this Police-Community Youth Basketball Conversation series. An assembled team of players from the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department and Drexel University’s police department played with an assembly of neighborhood players for good-natured fun. But instead of just a late afternoon of hooping and snacking, the assortment of young men, police, community members and volunteers also came together for facilitated discussions about what is happening in the streets and how that plays out in their lives — among their peers, family and each other. They swapped stories of growing up, of understanding the roles of police in community and responded frank questions from one another.

Tierra Thompson and Ezekiel Mathur, PCHR community relations team members, along with Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, also were on hand.

The talks, like checking out each other’s sweet moves, began the process of transformation, from wary strangers to interested partners. The goal: to help diffuse simmering antagonism by showing people on each side their common humanity.

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(l.-r.) Event organizers Patricia Coyne, John Leatherberry, chair, 16th Police District Advisory Council, 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead, and Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel.

“There are police-community/youth, top down, institutionally-controlled stuff happening these days, but this is not that,” Coyne said. “This is a bottom-up, grassroots effort that engages communities on their terms, on their turf.”

The lead engineers that constructed the framework for these interactions included Weekend of PeaceNewCORE, the Philadelphia Youth Commission, the Philadelphia Youth Network, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission. They combined NewCORE’s conversation model and adapted elements of the Weekend of Peace’s successful efforts.

For a dozen years, the Weekend of Peace — free July games and entertainment spearheaded by Malik and Calvin Johnson and organized by community volunteers — has promoted a violence-free zone for children and families, presented via participating recreation centers across the city. Last year, that included 22 rec centers, and this year that number is expected to rise. Coyne said these newly debuted civic conversations both will provide a bridge for greater participation in the Weekend of Peace and bolster relations among parties that are too often unfamiliar with each other.

Lt. Kenora Scott looks over the action as Rev. George Clark, a referee, chats with 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead. In addition to offering those services, Clark also seeks to train young people to be referees.

Lt. Kenora Scott looks over the action as Rev. George Clark, a referee, chats with 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead. In addition to offering those services, Clark also seeks to train young people to be referees.

The series, in essence, is a continuation of the theme of instituting harmony that’s integral to PCHR’s mission.

“This is the vehicle to get the people most directly affected to not only interact in a positive way, but to also reveal points of view and experiences they otherwise might be reluctant to do in any other type of forum,” PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman.

These conversation will help provide a way for residents who don’t always have a seat at the table to help shape ideas, recommendations and local actions expected from two seminal reports focusing on improved policing in Philadelphia, that of the U.S. Department of Justice on officer-involved shootings and findings from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Claiming a stake in the eventual outcomes in Philadelphia is essential for the city to fully move forward, Freeman said.

“The commission is the linchpin in that, to help protect people’s rights and be proactive to do all that we can to mitigate situations like ones we’ve seen across the country,” he added.

There is no quick fix for improving the relationship between law enforcement and the neighborhoods usually most in need of its service, the ones most often beset by poverty and crime. But there certainly are many hands on deck to work toward solutions.

Officer Lamar Wilkerson exchanges ideas with a youthful player at the Wright Rec Center.

Officer Lamar Wilkerson exchanges ideas with a youthful player at the Wright Rec Center.

The U.S. Justice Department now is investigating how to swiftly implement reform efforts nationwide that may save lives as well as bring back balance to a relationship that has been stressed by the burden of history, bias, poverty and crime. Commissioner Ramsey has pledged to implement recommendations offered in the report by the national task force, which he co-chaired.

Rebuilding trust takes time. It’s a process underway, starting one hoop at a time, in places such as Wright Rec, in cities such as Philadelphia, with guidance from entities such as PCHR.

“Our communities are full of tremendous resources that can be overlooked, and too often are,” Coyne said. “There are big iniatives that come up from upon high, but sometimes those are unsustainable at the community-level. That’s the point of this. What can we do at the community level to engage with the police in a mutually positive, productive, and lasting manner and strengthen our community partnerships?  We’re addressing just this.”

PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman proves he still has a few moves.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman proves he still has a few moves.

One tangible takeaway for which this coalition is aiming to insert more youthful voices in existing avenues where law enforcement and community interactions, such as the city’s police district advisory councils (PDACs) and the youth aid panels powered by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. By expanding and using these exchange opportunities, there’s a better chance to create more consistent and effective communications where it matters most, and increasing understanding and reducing mistrust in the process.

Additional planning for the series is under way. Interested in getting involved or learning more? Click here to get started.

Click here to watch a related report on CBS3.

2015 PCHR Awards: Philadelphia at its best

The opulent Arts Ballroom served as a perfect backdrop to celebrate the tireless efforts and ceaseless commitment of people and organizations in Philadelphia working on behalf of their neighbors and residents.

This was the 2015 PCHR Awards, and it was a night to remember.

Some 20 recipients from all walks of life and across the city and region received a well-earned spotlight. Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Managing Director Richard Negrin and PCHR commissioners presented the night’s awards to deserving recipients.

“Every year that we do this awards event, I take the opportunity to reflect on our current work and to make connections to the past.  For us, we don’t have to look far to make those connections,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “In its early days, our commission was led by two giants in the civil rights movement – Clarence Farmer, Sr. and Sadie T.M. Alexander – who shepherded us through tumultuous times in Philadelphia’s history and who helped to shape a more equitable city.

“While the country as a whole has made tremendous progress since those early days . . . there is still much work to be done.  Thankfully, the people in this room today – from the PCHR staff and Commissioners to our wonderful awardees and supporters – are the people who will move us forward,” Landau added.

All photos shot for Adria Diane Hughes Photography. For more photos, click here.

In his comments, Mayor Nutter did not spare praise for the many who work to improve and advance justice and equality in Philadelphia. He aptly summarized not just the beauty of this one night, but also the ongoing importance of PCHR, the first municipal civil rights agencies of its sort in the country.

Walking for peace

The 2015 Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation had a lot of targets to which its participants could direct good vibes, locally and globally.

Improving police-community relations. Ongoing strife in the Middle East. Missing girls, be they from Philadelphia, China, Nigeria or elsewhere.

Kathy Cruz  of the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) paused behind the Village of Arts and Humanities to munch on a few cookies and contemplate cultivating a more peaceful world -- with PCHR as a starting point.

Ezekiel Mathur and Kathy Cruz of the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) paused behind the Village of Arts and Humanities to munch on a few cookies and contemplate cultivating a more peaceful world — with PCHR as a starting point.

But more than anything, the 500 people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds who gathered at the Al Aqsa Mosque in North Philadelphia on Sunday came together to learn more about each other, intersections of faith and values, and how they can work in concert to cultivate greater harmony among their respective neighbors and within their communities during the 12th annual event.

Patricia Coyne, veteran PCHR community relations team member, has been a longtime presence in helping to bring this event to life, from co-planning to securing required permits. This year, she helped entice a new walk participant, Ezekiel Mathur, the newest member of the PCHR community relations team, who described the event as “amazing.”

Bayan Maxwell Toloubadei shared not only this sign but also his personal goals and observations of peace with walk participants, including PCHR's Ezekiel Mathur.

Bayan Maxwell Toloubadei shared not only this sign but also his personal goals and observations of peace with walk participants, including PCHR’s Ezekiel Mathur.

For two hours, there were exchanges of ideas and culture, as participants learned about faith dialogues in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and Baha’i traditions and then broke bread together when the walk culminated a mile later at West Kensington Ministry in Norris Square. What arises at day’s end are a stronger, deeper sense of humanity and fellowship.

It’s not a bad way to open the work week.

Celebrating civil rights champions from across the city

awardds_logoPHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday, April 28, PCHR will lead hundreds in recognizing and celebrating individuals and organizations from across the city and region who work in their daily capacity to improve the quality of life for all.

The 2015 PCHR Awards will honor a variety of civic  and social leaders, from the public, private and nonprofit sectors at the Arts Ballroom, 1324 Locust Street, Philadelphia, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The complete list of this year’s honorees:

  • Bishop Dwayne Royster and Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), Clarence Farmer Sr. Service Award recipients
  • Gloria Casarez, former LGBT affairs director for the City of Philadelphia (posthumously), Sadie T.M. Alexander Leadership Award recipient
  • Lt. Joyce Craig (posthumously), PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Adrienne Simpson, PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Ellen Somekawa, PCHR Executive Director’s Award recipient
  • Art-Reach workshop

    Art-Reach

    Art-Reach, PCHR Award for Arts and Culture

  • Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, PCHR Award for Public Safety
  • Philadelphia CeaseFire, PCHR Award for Community Service
  • Steven Seibel and TC Shillingford of Broad Street Ministry, PCHR Award for Nonprofit Stewardship
  • Rosa’s Pizza, PCHR Award for Corporate Responsibility
  • Officer Juan “Ace” Delgado, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Officer Gary Harkins

    Officer Gary Harkins

  • Gearing Up, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Gary Harkins, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Nokisha Jacobs, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Lettko, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Linda Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Regina Young

    Regina Young

  • Marsha Wall, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Tina Willis, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Regina Young, PCHR Community Excellence Award

You can still join Mayor Michael A. Nutter, PCHR leadership and other notables at this event, as well as jam with great sounds from members of the Philadelphia Clef Club’s Youth Jazz Ensemble, explore a silent auction packed with goodies, enjoy great food and even better company. Tickets are $75 and are still available for purchase here.
PCHR also would like to thank its generous sponsors for helping to make this event possible:

BRONZE
Regina Austincruz
Cruz ConstructionGraham Logo (Lt Green)
The Graham Company
Mel Heifitz
PEARL
Rebecca Alpert
The Arts Ballroom
Beneficial Foundation
dmhFund
Kearsley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center
Sarah Ricks, Esq.
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin and Schiller
JADE
Orthodox Auto Company
The Philadelphia Foundation
Society Hill Congregation
FRIENDS
Asian Bank
Gateway Health Systems
Greater Philadelphia
Chamber of Commerce
Jerner & Palmer, P.C.
LAZ Parking
Liberty Resources Inc.
Lockton Insurance
Philadelphia Committee for
Affordable Communities
United Bank of Philadelphia
AUCTION DONORS
Angelique Benrahou
Cashman & Associates
Cruz Construction
Hard Rock Café
Joy Tsin Lau
Office of Mayor Michael A. Nutter
Philadelphia Theater Co.
Philadelphia Mural Arts
Reading Terminal Market
Andre Richard Salon
The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia
Sally Saddiqi
Sang Kee restaurants
Speed Raceway
Vedge/V restaurants
V Trainers

List as of April 22, 2015

Love over hate: spring holiday edition

Rather than dwell on a ruling that affirmed freedom of speech but poses the opportunity to poison relations among residents, a coalition of advocates, led by an ecumenical group of faith leaders, gathered to declare that Philadelphia would stay true to its roots of tolerance.

A diverse array of faith and civic leaders joined Mayor Nutter to counter hateful speech with a new campaign, #DareToUnderstand.

A diverse array of faith and civic leaders joined Mayor Nutter to counter hateful speech with a new campaign, #DareToUnderstand.

Under gray skies Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Michael A. Nutter led the announcement of the #DareToUnderstand campaign — a response to provocative ads deemed anti-Muslim set to post on SEPTA buses and trolleys in April after SEPTA lost its court battle to bar the campaign. The ads are paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a cited hate group that has traveled from city to city, buying space on transit systems for ads that depict Muslims as hatemongers who target Jews.

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia spearheaded a coalition of concerned residents interested in taking a stand against the ads, a group that includes PCHR and the Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Hundreds came to LOVE Park as Nutter and a host of speakers all affirmed support for and respect of the First Amendment. By the same token, as the Rev. Judy Sullivan remarked clearly, this group intended to make it known that “we won’t stand by as words and images seek to divide us.”

Since the remedy for hate speech is more speech, enter #DareToUnderstand — a comprehensive resource center that encourages people to take an active, but peaceful role in speaking against hateful and divisive words. People are encouraged to take to social media and use the hashtag along with selfies, poems or other expressions of solidarity.  There are also ideas to help parents, teachers, faith leaders or others to open discussions and probe the concept of tolerance further. A campaign to bring awareness of #DareToUnderstand, from billboards to taxi ads. is under way — as is fundraising for those efforts.

Speech may be free, but irresponsible speech should be called out, the presenters at LOVE Park declared. That this is a week considered holy on the calendar of two major faith traditions — Christians are preparing to celebrate Easter while Jews are preparing for Passover — added greater resonance, advocates said.

PCHR leaders declare they #DareToUnderstand. (r-l) Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Commissioner Rebecca Alpert, Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque.

PCHR leaders declare they #DareToUnderstand. (r-l) Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Commissioner Rebecca Alpert, Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque.

#DareToUnderstand is a natural extension of the work PCHR does on a daily basis, said Rue Landau, executive director.

“These ads may be a deterrent to our work, but as a city, we’re better than these ads,” Landau said to cheers at LOVE Park. “This is a time we can come together.”

Even dare to understand.

Counter hate campaign launched by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

Counter hate campaign launched by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

Celebrating Women’s History in a meaningful way

City Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones Jr. and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez took out time to honor a host of sheroes from across the city, “women of moxie” whose leadership in private, public and nonprofit sectors is helping to move the needle to a better quality of life for all who live and work here: Tina Sloan GreenClarena Tolson, Katherine Gajewski,  Yvonne RobertsIrene Hannan, Hon. Renee Cardwell Hughes, Vanessa Fields, Kathy BlackEvelyn Marcha-Hidalgo and Sophie Bryan 

Mayor Nutter signs a bill asking voters to create a  permanent Philadelphia Commission for Women.

Mayor Nutter signs a bill asking voters to create a permanent Philadelphia Commission for Women.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown makes a last-minute edit to her prepared comments during a Women's History Month program at City Hall.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown makes a last-minute edit to her prepared comments during a Women’s History Month program at City Hall.

Mayor Nutter, City Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez join a host of women who testified on behalf of creating a new Commission for Women.

Mayor Nutter, City Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez join a host of women who testified on behalf of creating a new Commission for Women, including PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and Commissioner Shalimar Thomas.

The Women’s History Month program also featured an important part two: the enactment of legislation that will move the city a step closer to reintroducing a Commission for Women. Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed Bill No. 140230, allowing voters in the Mayor 19 primary election to decide whether to update the city’s charter and make such a commission a permanent feature of municipal government. PCHR testified in favor of this action in February.

Philadelphia Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson, PCHR Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney and City Councilman Blondell Reynolds Brown share a moment of celebration and sisterhood.

Philadelphia Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson, PCHR Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney and City Councilman Blondell Reynolds Brown share a moment of celebration and sisterhood.

With issues ranging from pay equity to human trafficking to cyclical poverty, there is cause and need for a set of thinkers and doers to focus on real solutions, Reynolds Brown reminded the audience. Nutter said he signed the legislation in honor of his grandmother, his mother, his sister, his wife and, “for the future, my daughter Olivia.”

And once the question goes on the ballot, Nutter said, “The answer should be ‘Yes.'”

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PCHR reacts to court ruling on anti-Muslim ads on SEPTA buses

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations reacted with disappointment in the ruling against SEPTA in its quest to bar an anti-Muslim organization from placing objectionable ads on its buses.

“We appreciated SEPTA’s efforts to uphold their anti-disparagement policy,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “We also respect the judge’s decision to uphold the First Amendment in this case, and recognize the tension this case elicited.

The New Hampshire-based American Freedom Defense Initiative has systematically been running a campaign of provocative ads disparaging Muslims and Islam throughout the United States, using transit systems. Yesterday’s ruling in U.S. District Court will add Philadelphia to a list that includes places such as Seattle and New York.

“As the city agency that protects the civil rights of all of Philadelphia’s residents and visitors, it is our job to ensure that no one feels this city is hostile toward them because of their religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation, ability, gender or gender identity. Ads like these make our job harder. They clearly violate our values, even if the judge ruled they don’t violate the law.”

An ecumenical group of leaders led by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia is planning measures to counter the messages coming out of New Hampshire, and PCHR will be helpful in those efforts, said Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert, who serves on the commission and teaches at Temple University.

Greater Philadelphia is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Americans who practice Islam, with Philadelphia’s Muslim population ranking fourth among the top 10 U.S. cities. But as an organization established to promote peace, PCHR will intensify its efforts to soften any possible blow by this campaign, commissioners said.

“This is the city where American democracy was born, and there were many arguments about how it would be shaped and what it would say,” said Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner. “Sometimes, speech meant to hurt other people is still considered in the boundaries. But Allah commands us to love our neighbors, and to be faithful. That calling is true for all of us, whether you’re Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, whatever.

“This is Philadelphia. And we won’t let outsiders divide us by using hateful tactics.”