Martin Luther King Day of Service 2015

Team PCHR fanned across the city during the 2015 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at events large and small – from engaging in neighborhood service projects to celebrating the ongoing commitment of others to helping the broader community focus on and advance King’s message.

“This is a day, a time, when this city not only comes together, but shows its continued leadership when it comes to protecting civil rights and cultivating harmony,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “It’s nothing short of inspiring to see the many personal and public expressions to that end – people of every age, color, gender, religion.

“Dr. King indeed would be proud.”

Eli Landau and Eli and Uthman Jabbar Garner work side-by-side on a service project at Girard College, building a flower box for an area school.

Eli Smith-Landau and Uthman Jabbar Garner work side-by-side on a service project at Girard College, building a flower box for an area school.

Landau, along with Commissioners Regina Austin, Marshall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Todd Bernstein, lead organizer for the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service at Girard College to open the day.

The setting was apt in that it celebrated the 50th anniversary of King’s visit to the then all-white private boarding school for boys that sits in the heart of a predominantly black North Philadelphia neighborhood. He joined an ongoing campaign waged by the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP to open up the school. Protesters marched day and night in the summer of 1965, demanding admittance for all.

Ensuing court cases — filed at the urging of then-PCHR Chair Sadie T. M. Alexander — finally led to integration, with black students entering the school in 1968 and girls enrolling in 1984.

Just as protesters marched at that time for equal access to education, people should have equal passion today to ensure that all students receive equal education, beginning with fair funding for the city’s public schools, Nutter told the crowd at Girard College. Pushing that agenda requires an engaged citizenry – a voting citizenry.

“In the birthplace of freedom and democracy, voting is the one thing that folks should be able to do in Philadelphia in a peaceful manner,” the mayor said.

To help erase some of those obstacles during this 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, volunteers constructed “Vote Here” bilingual signs in a dozen languages where data has reflected lower than average turnout. Advocates have argued that in a city where nearly 1 in 10 residents are born outside of the United States, small public accommodations such as these will help prevent inadvertent Election Day discrimination.

The signage assembly was one of several projects taking place at the campus. Students and adults alike busied themselves in activities to improve the lives of their neighbors – from building flower boxes for local schools to sorting clothing donations to area shelters to fixing computers to distribute to public housing residents to packing meals to deliver to seniors in need. The hundreds who gathered at Girard College were among a reported 135,000 volunteering at some 1,800 projects throughout the Delaware Valley.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter powers up with Team PCHR before they dive into their service projects. (l-r PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Nutter, PCHR Commissioners Regina Austin, Marsall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner.)

Mayor Michael A. Nutter powers up with Team PCHR before they dive into their service projects. (l-r PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Nutter, PCHR Commissioners Regina Austin, Marsall Freeman and Saadiq Jabbar Garner.)

At Girard, an on-site jobs and opportunity fair offered not only possible posts, but also strategies to land them, including for job seekers that have criminal records. PCHR’s Karen Forman and Monica Gonzalez guided dozens through the city’s “Ban the Box” law and how the agency investigates discrimination claims in employment, housing and public accommodation dealings.

“We had a steady stream of people coming through and getting information,” Gonzalez said. “They were impressed with the information and just hearing more about who we are and what we do.”

Monica Gonzalez informs job seekers how PCHR defends against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation during the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College.

Monica Gonzalez informs job seekers how PCHR defends against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation during the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College.

By the afternoon, commissioners and staff had gathered at the School District of Philadelphia’s headquarters, launch site for the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march. The event, sponsored by Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), was one of several held nationwide calling to reclaim the more confrontational aspects of King’s push for equality.

In the light of increased nationwide attention on slayings of unarmed black men at the hands of police and urban public education funding among other social inequities, march organizers declared the moment an opportunity to reclaim King’s fuller legacy. Thousands mobilized in Philadelphia and headed to Independence Mall, where ecumenical prayers and public commitments to equality for all took place.

“The march signaled a new way of thinking about MLK Day,” said Commissioner Rebecca T. Alpert, who along with PCHR Chair Thomas Earle, Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque were on the scene.

“As a man on the train said to me, ‘King wasn’t about cleaning up neighborhoods.’ I agree,” Alpert said. “King, to me, was about bringing us all together to work for a better society. POWER’s message of ‘justice, jobs and education’ resonates.”

Calls for equitable policing, education funding, a living wage and more were issued at the MLK Day of  Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march.

Calls for equitable policing, education funding, a living wage and more were issued at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment march.

Earle echoed that sentiment, saying this event was just as legitimate and necessary as the many service projects throughout the city and region.

It was 20 years ago that Philadelphia led the nation in hosting the first MLK Day of Service, thanks in great measure to legislation dedicating the holiday co-authored by civil rights lion U.S. Rep. John Lewis and then-U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, a Philadelphia-area resident and King confidant.

Thousands gathered to participate in the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment march in  Center City

Thousands gathered to participate in the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment march in Center City

As much as King understood that building unity among neighbors was an essential part of building and maintaining peace, he recognized that convincing others of the merits of this call to action would be difficult. That case remains today amid challenging circumstances. But the rainbow coalition working shoulder-to-shoulder is affirming – and underscores the work of PCHR, Earle said.

A host of constituencies gathered to raise their voices for justice and equality at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

A host of constituencies gathered to raise their voices for justice and equality at the MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment.

“It was an incredible turnout and a very diverse crowd participating for many different reasons . . . and for many good causes,” he added.

Civil rights lessons: Harvesting from Philly’s “Deep Roots”

Every year the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service gets bigger and offers new features, and 2015 is no different. While much of the day and many of its related activities in Philadelphia will center on commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, History Making Productions will offer volunteers and students citywide another gift.

The "Deep Roots" poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The “Deep Roots” poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The team there, led by educational director Amy Cohen, will debut an educational poster that puts Philadelphia’s rich civil rights history into context. Deep Roots, Continuing Legacy: Philadelphia in the Struggle for Civil Rights charts some of the earliest moments of individuals fighting for their full rights through to continuing actions in the 21st century.

Download the poster here and the poster’s corresponding teaching materials here.

Funded primarily through a grant by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, a host of partners aided in its creation. PCHR is one such partner, an effort spearheaded by Commissioner Sarah Ricks, herself an Underground Railroad buff.

From the founding of the abolition society through to the citywide mandate to teach African-American history in public schools – an initiative now in its 10th year – the poster provides links to the ongoing commitment to securing freedom and dignity, despite the odds.  The lessons are timely.

The slayings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner triggering acts of outrage nationwide through to films such as Selma are making real for students what once had been seen as dusty moments in books, said Cohen, an educator and history scholar.

“Right now, unfortunately, there are a lot of teachable moments,” she said. “Young people are fired up about getting into the streets and protesting the racial violence they’re seeing.

“But when they realize it fits into a historical pattern, the more powerful it becomes. There’s such resonance for what’s going on today with what happened even in Octavius Catto’s day. Similar things, years and years earlier.”

The hope, Cohen added, is to kindle strong thoughts among students and other — solidifying actions today are tied into those of the past, and that they can play an active role in the continuum of fighting to preserve and advance civil rights.

The poster will be distributed at Girard College on Monday and made available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and throughout the School District of Philadelphia.  For details, visit History Making Productions.

PCHR opens New Year with info for inmates at Philadelphia prisons

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Randy Duque joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and an array of community and faith leaders on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance. Duque was one of 10 guest speakers at Curran Frohmhold Correctional Facility, answering questions and offering encouragement to some 100 inmates looking forward to beginning anew upon their return to society.  “Sharing information about what PCHR does, in terms of protecting civil rights and enforcing the city’s ‘Ban the Box’ law proved helpful,” Duque said. “These are individuals who may not otherwise get this valuable information. And this is information that literally could change the outcome of their lives.”

PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque was part of Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s team of community and faith leaders visiting Philadelphia’s prisons on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance.

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Randy Duque joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and an array of community and faith leaders on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance.

Duque was one of 10 guest speakers at Curran Frohmhold Correctional Facility, answering questions and offering encouragement to some 100 inmates looking forward to beginning anew upon their return to society.

These visitations began with Mayor John F. Street, who wanted to offer hope to those interested in turning their lives around once they were released. Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. also was among those opening the new year — and hopefully a new chapter — with those currently behind bars.

“Sharing information about what PCHR does, in terms of protecting civil rights and enforcing the city’s ‘Ban the Box’ law proved helpful,” Duque said. “These are individuals who may not otherwise get this valuable information. And this is information that literally could change the outcome of their lives.”