Changing neighborhoods: 20th and Diamond streets edition

cc_logoOne in an occasional series examining how Philadelphia residents handle change

Since its inception, PCHR has helped residents manage change when neighborhoods undergo cyclical change. New people come in, older neighbors move out – or sometimes stay. Friction – born of differing cultures, attitudes or plain fear – at times arises. Tempering hard feelings before they escalate to negative actions is central to the PCHR mission – and why commissioners gladly accepted an invitation from longtime residents within the 32nd Ward to get their take on the rate and quality of change in their community.

Stretching from 33rd Street on the west and Broad Street to the east, Susquehanna Avenue to the north, Oxford Street to the south, the ward is a swath of North Philadelphia that serves as a gateway to both Fairmount Park and Temple University.

On Tuesday night, an assortment of neighbors spent two hours sharing their thoughts and frustrations about standing in Temple’s growing shadow and amid renewal prompted by outside developers. Listening to those concerns were PCHR Commissioners Marshall Freeman and Sarah Ricks, joined by PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque.

Changing North Philly

Longtime resident Jane Swinney Wilson describes life in her changing North Central Philadelphia neighborhood as Commissioner Freeman, PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque and Commissioner Ricks listen and jot notes.

“Everybody has the same situation, every black neighborhood does,” said Basir Fulmore, a South Philadelphia transplant. “We’re misinformed and getting locked out of our neighborhoods and out of the loop.”

The results, Fulmore and others said, wreck quality of life. Skyrocketing taxes. Declining public services. Exclusion from construction jobs. Police harassment. Disrespectful neighbors. School closures. Displacement. Illegal rooming houses. Wayward and inconsiderate parking. Mounting trash.

“I just want my neighborhood to be clean, to be able to sit on my steps without smelling trash, to look like anybody else’s neighborhood,” said Jane Swinney Wilson, a longtime resident. “I’m old. I’m retired. I’m tired. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting people in the streets about this and that.”

Judith Robinson, an area committeewoman and realtor, organized the meeting at Jones Memorial AME Church at 20th and Diamond streets. As whirring fans cooled the 50 or so gathered, several took their turn at the mic to share their testimonies.

Many statements echoed each other, and by the nodding heads, summed up nearly universal feelings. They were reflective of similar concerns voiced elsewhere in the city and heard by PCHR commissioners and staff as cranes, bulldozers and other signs of renewal have become commonplace fixtures in communities in transition, from Point Breeze to Yorktown, Fishtown to Cobbs Creek.

The pace and unintended outcomes of that neighborhood change has reenergized PCHR in intensifying its role as mediator and information hub for communities in need of that guidance.

For the past year, commissioners and staff have dedicated time to listening to concerns, extracting similarities and producing new tools to help people navigate any disruptions to their way of life, newcomers and old-timers alike. PCHR now is working on assembling a set of resources for people seeking to create and maintain community, even in the face of rapid change.

The people assembled at Jones Memorial said they’d be grateful for whatever partners they can get.

Earl Lively, a neighborhood activist, spoke about the health and security hazards stemming from blocks of illegal dumping taking place under the city’s nose, with little support to stop it to date. He implored PCHR to “help us do something.”

And then there are the Temple students.

Nearly every speaker had a horror story of inconsiderate, entitled students invading or disrupting communities already teetering. Efforts so far – from complaints to landlords and city agencies to calls to the university – have yielded little.

“I work at 5 in the morning, and their party is just getting started sometimes,” said Michelle Jones. “I’ve seen them take their trash and dump it over a fence. It’s disrespectful. It’s wrong.”

Changing North Philly

Michelle Jones describes frustration in dealing with her student neighbors.

But not every neighborhood ill could be blamed on outsiders, one woman reminded the crowd.

Michelle Bailey said she took on the mantle of block captain in her neighborhood because she could no longer bear the filth rising. But all the culprits aren’t sporting the cherry-and-white.

“Let’s be real, some of our neighbors make it hard for us to live next door to,” Bailey said. “And I’m tired of the noise, and excuses.”

For their part, the neighbors assembled pledged to start, with community planning sessions and renewed efforts to connect with Temple officials.

Freeman and Ricks took notes to share with their fellow commissioners. Duque told the audience that PCHR would share its new community-building tools once they’re developed – to further aid their empowerment effort.

“At times it’s the worst of the worst. But it can also be the best of the best,” Robinson said. “We know the problems. Now we need to find solutions, and that’s the real tough part.”

Unpacking Philadelphia’s immigration trend

For more than a decade, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanianshas been helping immigrants better navigate the streets and ways of Philadelphia. Now, it has more than just anecdotal evidence as to why the city has regained its status as a “gateway city” for new Americans – a place where immigrants opt to come to live and stay.

This recently-issued report details report on why immigrants come and stay in Philadelphia.

This recently-issued report details report on why immigrants come and stay in Philadelphia.

Choosing Philadelphia, a 44-page report, unpacks the why and how of a trend that has led to the city’s population rebounding after decades of decline. Drawing immigrants has plumped the population by some 113,000 new residents, according to the latest figures. The tally is part of a concerted plan outlined by Mayor Michael A. Nutter when he first assumed office. Variations on the theme are emerging nationwide, with places such as St. Louis and Detroit drawing headlines for their tactics, if not the overall goal.

“There has been a big trend in the last three years, where 30 states or cities have launched some talent attraction initiative,” said Amanda Bergson-Shilock, director of outreach and program evaluation at the Welcoming Center, who led the study. “Philadelphia has been on the cutting edge, but suddenly everyone is jumping on this bandwagon. But there is an astonishing lack of data as to what attracts people to an area.”

While the Welcoming Center presents just a snapshot – limited resources prevented a more expansive, statistical study – what’s uncovered offers insights as to why Philadelphia has been a magnet for immigrants.  Among the key findings:

  • Economics rule: Warm and fuzzy feelings take a far backseat to one of the major reasons for heading this way – the relative speed of finding work. While reporting Philly natives aren’t necessarily the politest, they will engage their foreign-born neighbors and leave them alone.
  • Diversity matters: The many enclaves of foreign-born and non-white residents living in neighborhoods across the city and ability to connect with worshippers of the same faith lent it an air of welcome. That doesn’t mean that there are not the occasional cultural clashes among native-born residents, but just the numbers of fellow foreign-born individuals was seen as encouraging.
  • Global connectivity, on a higher scale: The number and quality of higher education institutions influenced decisions to move here, not just for degrees or work, but also for helping to foster a critical mass of global-minded people and opportunities to collaborate with them.
  • Discrimination too familiar: Whereas Latino and Caribbean immigrants hailed the city as a great place to find a good job, they also were likely to report instances of racial or ethnic discrimination – at rates higher than their European, African and Asian-born counterparts.
  • Kids love the PHL: Some 2 in 3 millennials surveyed – young people born between 1980 and 2000 – who came to the United States not only landed in Philadelphia, but said it was their first destination of choice. Among older immigrants, 1 in 2 said Philadelphia was their first destination of choice.
  • Word-of-mouth matters: There’s no coincidence that people tend to come here via networks – a friend or family member settles in, finds success and then spreads the good word, and so on.
  • Philly is infectious: After living here for a while, foreign-born residents adopt and demonstrate über-loyal attachments to their neighborhoods, almost rivaling their native-born neighbors. And if the initial transition goes well, they are about 90 percent certain to stay in the city.

A  few common myths also were dispelled. Higher-educated, wealthier immigrants didn’t automatically flock to the suburbs. Nor were people seeking to abandon the city because of troubling conditions engulfing the School District of Philadelphia.

Researchers sampled foreign-born residents living throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding four counties, representing some 74 nations of origin and Puerto Rico.

The report cuts across educational and economic lines, among urban and suburban dwellers, and across a swath of people born outside of the United States who now call Philadelphia home. The only exception is that it does not include significant input from the notable Indian American enclave of Montgomery County, where responses were not as robust, Bergson-Shilock said.

The center unveiled the new study to a roomful of civic, corporate, educational and foundation leaders, pairing the overview with a panel discussion on its implications during a breakfast meeting at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP.

The panel included Nilda Iris Ruiz, president and CEO of APM Philadelphia, Anatoli W. Murha, business development and marketing manager for Ukranian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union and Patience Lehrman of Temple University. Al Dia NewsMedia co-sponsored the event.

Bergson-Shilock said the newly compiled data could help stimulate conversations and thoughtful policy decisions. Operating without that information easily can result – and has resulted – in a host of bad outcomes, ranging from wasted tax dollars to resentment among current and native-born residents.

The idea behind this study is to focus on first-hand information to better plan, invest and replicate success, she said.

“There has definitely been some magic-bullet thinking going on in terms of immigration initiatives,” Bergson-Shilock said. “But in this report we try to be very clear about three things. Nothing is a panacea. If you don’t do your outreach strategy wisely, it can end up backfiring. And any strategy has to be about the people living there as well as those you’re looking to attract.”








PCHR reacts to passage of Philadelphia’s breastfeeding bill

Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously today to enact a new measure to protect nursing mothers in the workplace, a move hailed by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

The breastfeeding bill, authored by City Councilman David Oh, would make it illegal for a Philadelphia employer not to reasonably accommodate a female employee’s need to lactate or pump breast milk at work. Companies would have to provide nursing mothers clean, private spaces to pump at work; bathrooms are not suitable substitutes under the proposed law. Mayor Michael A. Nutter is expected to sign the measure into law shortly, updating the Fair Practices Ordinance, the city’s guiding civil rights law.

Creating private, clean spaces for Philadelphia's working women to pump breast milk will soon be the law of the land.

Creating private, clean spaces for Philadelphia’s working women to pump breast milk will soon be the law of the land. Courtesy: Bella Bama.

Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau, who testified on behalf of the bill, offered the following comments on today’s vote:

“While the Fair Practices Ordinance includes protections in this area, this law would make explicit the rules of the road for all employers. Passing these laws highlight the fact that we want pregnant women and new mothers to be safe and healthy in the workplace, and that they have equal value. That’s important because some 2 in 3 women in Philadelphia are co- or primary breadwinners for their households.

“That number includes nursing mothers, and more than 7 in 10 mothers breastfeed their children at some point, with nearly 4 in 10 mothers nursing exclusively during the first three months after childbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“In the past few months, Philadelphia has taken impressive measures to protect pregnant women and new mothers, allowing them to care for their families without risking harassment or their jobs. Moves like this solidify why we are a world-class city.”

PCHR educates about and enforces the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, which protects residents and visitors from discriminatory practices in employment, housing and public accommodations. Sex discrimination cases are among those investigated by PCHR.


U.S. mobility: A closer peek into those moving boxes

While mobility rates are fairly stable, more than 1 in 10 U.S. residents moved between 2012 and 2013, with most of them packing their boxes in search of better digs or opportunities, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Moving remains a part of life in America -- and Philadelphia.

Moving remains a part of life in America — and Philadelphia.

Of these numbers, blacks and Latinos were more likely to be on the move because of “housing-related” reasons. More than half of African Americans and nearly half of Latinos cited that rationale.

Key factors included a desire to improve their living conditions, cheaper housing and being closer to work.

Nearly 6 in 10 people who moved within the same county did so because of housing-related issues. People with only a high school diploma or less education tended to move within their home county, and within 50 miles of their last residence.

Those who moved outside their home counties usually did so for job-related reasons, and had higher levels of education, the report found.

Housing mobility can open low-income households to greater opportunity beyond a better home, said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Jane C.W. Vincent. Improved access to better schools and jobs are other by-products.

On the other hand, earlier studies by Case Western University’s Claudia J. Coulton have found that Philadelphia residents generally move in response to crisis or to find more affordable housing.

Moving can be a wrenching experience for anyone, and not one that most people take on lightly. From shedding support systems such as neighborhood barbershops or houses of worship to familiar faces at the corner store, it can be a disruptive process for the entire family. People about to take that step should work to lessen their stress as much as possible, and experts offer sound help for that process — advice worth heeding.





Trans-formative encounters: Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference 2014

The allure of fashion’s Isis King , comedy’s Ian Harvie, beauty queen Jenna Talackova, and, increasingly, Netflix’s red-hot sensation Laverne Cox, now has the general public looking at transgender men and women in a new light.

Model and fashion designer Isis King

Model and fashion designer (and Art Institute of Philadelphia graduate) Isis King enthralls.

While not every transgender man or woman may have Vogue-ready looks, the essential desire for self-definition and self-determination is shared across the trans spectrum.

Jenna Talackova has shifted preconceptions of the "ideal" Miss Universe contestant.

Jenna Talackova has shifted preconceptions of the “ideal” Miss Universe contestant.

That fact underlies the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, just wrapping up its 13th year of offering information and support to trans people – along with those who love them – so they can better negotiate a world still struggling to come to terms with their existence.

The conference offers a cross-section of information for physical, mental, spiritual, economic and legal wellness – at home, on campus, at the workplace and any place in between. It was held this year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and presented by the Mazzoni Center.

Age-specific workshops addressed concerns of questioning and transitioning teens and their parents through to seniors in need of services. Plus, vendor showcases and activities such as film screenings allowed for social opportunities as well.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau opened the three-day conference, bringing greetings on behalf of Mayor Michael A. Nutter. Deputy Director Reynelle Brown Staley served as a conference presenter, discussing employment discrimination law and remedies in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Robyn Gigl, a partner at Stein, McGuire, Pantages & Gigl, joined her, providing a New Jersey perspective. Brendan Corbalis, a Villanova Law intern at PCHR, moderated the discussion, designed to grant continuing legal education for professionals in the region.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, filmmaker, activist, PhD., and trans man.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, filmmaker, activist, PhD., and trans man.

One topic that generated a lot of discussion was the use of restrooms and the discomfort – if not at times outright hostility – others demonstrate due to sharing such intimate spaces with transgender men and women. Staley explained that under Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance, people are permitted to use the bathroom that matches with their gender identity. Likewise, there was also considerable discussion about perception of gender identity. Though trans people may identify themselves one way, others often still see them through standard prisms – binary categories of “male” and “female,” without much room for any gray.

Yet the shifting definition of gender identity continues to rise. Once derided and ridiculed outright, more credence and empathy are being offered to those who feel they were born into the wrong bodies.

Changing social norms has been slow, but progress is evident. Just last week, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a directive allowing transgender individuals to choose their preferred gender for their health records. The move has cleared the way for federal workers to access transition-related medical care, reversing long-standing policy.

And today, transgender people born in the state of New York will no longer have to prove that they had gender affirming surgery to change the sex marked on their birth certificates. Meanwhile, Boston City Council recently voted unanimously to guarantee trans specific medical services to their employees.

Philadelphia has been on the forefront of these issues. In 2002, gender identity was included as a protected class under the Fair Practices Ordinance, which protects people from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing.

Former Hawaii State Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto blazed trails as a trans woman.

Former Hawaii State Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto blazed trails as a trans woman.

Still, in asserting one’s full rights, choosing how to identify oneself is central – and determining who gets to be the final arbiter on that decision is where the sparks tend to flare.  It’s a component of a political affirmation with echoes of the colored/Negro/black/African-American or the Hispanic/Chicano/Latino identity conversations. It’s as vivid in pronoun – like restroom – assignment debates.

For trans people, it’s a fight with many fronts – from the basics, such as preventing unprovoked assaults, to the more intricate, such as negotiating insurance policies for gender affirming surgery.

But the heart of the matter is not always physical. There are the personal definitions of dignity, the expectations of others in the wider world – tolerance, acceptance or assimilation. Trans people may simply wish to declare themselves. Yet expanding the notions of self remains a confusing concept for many. For some, life beyond the gender binary is a prospect fraught with fear and distress. Helping people to understand each other — and the law — in our changing world is usually when PCHR is called.

A female-to-male transgender male, Ian Harvie keeps audiences in stitches.

A female-to-male transgender male, Ian Harvie keeps audiences in stitches.

GLAAD offers a glossary to help the less-versed on how best to address transgender individuals, and avoid unintended insults. And PCHR offers trainings to assist those trying to build more inclusive spaces.

LGBTQ activist and star of "Orange Is the New Black" Laverne Cox.

LGBTQ activist and star of “Orange Is the New Black” Laverne Cox.

Education will lead the change many trans people and their allies crave. Whether it’s through episodes of Orange Is the New Black or comic book characters such Batgirl’s Alysia Yeoh, advocates say pop culture will continue to help pave the way for improved and respectful interactions.

And that can only be a good thing for everyone.

Saluting active engagement: Citizens Advisory Council for Probation and Parole’s 3rd annual recognition ceremony

The Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on North Broad Street came alive with applause as the Philadelphia Citizens Advisory Council for Probation and Parole honored men and women making a difference daily at its 3rd annual recognition ceremony. PCHR’s Patricia Coyne, veteran community relations division representative, helped to emcee the event.

Patricia Coyne

PCHR’s Patricia Coyne names awardees at the PBPP event.

Overall, some 16 individuals and groups making a positive impact on the probation and parole process were formally thanked — and cheered. Among this year’s awardees were individuals from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, JEVS Human Services, and RISE — Mayor Nutter’s Office of Reintegration Services, as well as former parolees who are now thriving in their new lives.

(L-R) Michael Potteiger, Chairman, PA Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) Cedric Smith, PBPP ASCRA Agent, Philadelphia Region Tonie Willis, Ardella's House (for reentering/recovering women) Bonnietta Ferguson, Deputy Director for Reentry (PBPP - Philadelphia Region) Christian Stephens, PBPP ASCRA Agent, Philadelphia Region Thomas Wright, Deputy Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department CB Kimmins, Chairman, Probation/Parole CAC-Philadelphia Chairman Vincent Faust, "Sobriety Through Outpatient." PCHR's Patricia Coyne is at the podium.

(L-R) Michael Potteiger, chairman, Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole,
Cedric Smith, PBPP resource agent, Philadelphia region,Tonie Willis, Ardella’s House, Bonnietta Ferguson, PBPP deputy director for reentry, Philadelphia region, Christian Stephens, PBPP resource agent, Philadelphia Region, Deputy Commissioner Thomas Wright, Philadelphia Police Department, CB Kimmins, chairman, Philadelphia Citizens Advisory Council and Vincent Faust of Sobriety Through OutPatient Inc. PCHR’s Patricia Coyne is at the podium.

Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Thomas H. Wright, Pennsylvania Probation and Parole Chairman Michael C. Potteiger and Prince Hall Senior Grand Warden Malcolm E. Harris were among the luminaries offering words of gratitude and encouragement in the ongoing effort to help ensure safer communities and support for families across the city.

About 100 people attended the event, including state Rep. Vanessa Lowery-Brown and various legislative and civic partners. And PCHR also shared valuable information about its “Ban the Box” initiative.

The advisory council helps to build bridges between those navigating the criminal justice system and the wider community, reducing tensions and increasing understanding. Coyne represents PCHR on the council.

Seeking to create a city of “motherly love”

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was one of a slew of experts testifying to the benefits of breastfeeding protections for working mothers and in support of a bill introduced by City Councilman David Oh that would strengthen the rights of nursing mothers at a hearing Monday afternoon.

Breastfeeding bill testimony

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and Dr. Esther Chung, professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College testify in City Council, Dr. Chung is also medical director of the Newborn Nursery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Photo courtesy: Emma Lee, WHYY Media Inc.

The legislation,  Bill No. 130922,  would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for nursing mothers by providing both time and a sanitary, private location outside a bathroom to pump their breasts during the work day. As it stands, the Affordable Care Act has similar language. Oh’s bill would make the practice explicit  for Philadelphia employers and covers places exempted by federal law.

The Fair Practices Ordinance as currently constructed protects against harassment or discrimination of nursing mothers in public spaces.

“Bill No. 130922 would make protections to breastfeeding women in employment explicit in the FPO [Fair Practices Ordinance], covering all employers in Philadelphia with one or more employees,” Landau said. “This addition to our law further would underscore Philadelphia’s commitment to employees and families here, an unwavering commitment to the total well-being of our workplaces and communities, particularly women.

“This is critical because many Philadelphia families rely on working women for their survival. Census data show that women remain the primary or co-breadwinners in 2 in 3 Philadelphia households – a tally that includes nursing mothers,” she added.

If the bill passes, PCHR would be charged with enforcing the measure.

Greater education would help diffuse much of the confrontation centering around breastfeeding at work, said Dr. Esther Chung, professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College. She is also medical director of the Newborn Nursery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Members of City Council’s law and government committee listened intently and engaged Landau, Chung, Amal Bass of the Women’s Law Project and the other presenters. A vote on the bill before the full City Council is expected shortly.

Numerous studies have hailed the physical benefits of breastfeeding. There is even literature on the economic benefits of the practice, particularly in the workplace. Nursed babies are less likely to get sick, meaning fewer missed days by their mothers and greater overall productivity.

Still, those facts run counter to lingering cultural misconceptions and existing discrimination. A recent photo of a mother nursing at her college graduation caused a furor on social media. And a Pennsylvania woman is suing behind the treatment she had endured at her job when she attempted to pump her breasts, which included harassment and being forced to express her milk in dirty, bug-infested environments.

That is despite federal and state law, and that many pediatricians recommend mothers engage in this cost-effective activity for a minimum of six months. Many don’t get past three months due to worries about treatment at work, Landau said. Needing to pump twice a day at work can be enough to raise the ire of co-workers and supervisors, and fears of getting fired.

Philadelphia, in fact, has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates of the nation’s 10 largest cities; it is also has the highest poverty rate of the nation’s 10 largest cities. For many, publicly bared breasts remain taboo.

Breastfeeding college mom

Cal State – Long Beach grad Karlesha Thurman touched off a firestorm when she posted this photo on Facebook .

“Some just don’t understand the concept,” Chung said. “They know you can pump gas for a car. But they don’t understand why women have to pump breasts.”

Many of the issues and controversies boil down to a simple fact, according to City Councilman Jim Kenney: “If men could have children, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”