Post-Francis Philly: PCHR papal reflections

papal_indy_hall_092615The landmark World Meeting of Families 2015, paired with the historic visit by Pope Francis to Philadelphia, transformed this city into a global village on a far larger scale than usual.

People of different languages, cultures and countries brimmed from street corners throughout Center City, culminating in the final Mass featuring tens of thousands on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that Sunday, led by the charismatic pontiff.

These visitors from Angola were among the many in town for the World Meeting of Families and words from Pope Francis.

These visitors from Angola were among the many in town for the World Meeting of Families and words from Pope Francis.

But beyond the pope, Team PCHR engaged with a cross-section of humanity, as ambassadors, aides and observers of one of the largest events the city – indeed, the nation – has seen.

Deputy Director Randy Duque caught a rare sighting of members of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, from Fairmount's Chapel of Divine Love, Nicknamed the "Pink Sisters," this cloistered order mostly remains indoors in deep contemplation.  The papal visit served as a cherry atop their 100th anniversary celebration.

Deputy Director Randy Duque caught a rare sighting of members of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, from Fairmount’s Chapel of Divine Love, Nicknamed the “Pink Sisters,” this cloistered order mostly remains indoors in deep contemplation. The papal visit served as a cherry atop their 100th anniversary celebration.

PCHR members were among those mingling with the crowds, taking the temperature of residents and visitors alike. Some, such as Commissioner Sarah Ricks, blogged about it. Others, such as Deputy Director Randy Duque, were working as volunteers on behalf of the city, in the heart of it all. Others still, such as Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman took the opportunity to wade through the crowds and make connections.

For more evidence, watch this great clip of the commissioner in action, speaking with a group of nuns after Pope Francis addressed the world from Independence Mall. 

Philadelphia definitely was transformed by the moment, and PCHR intends to keep that renewed spirit of peaceful brotherhood and sisterhood going, in the weeks, months and years to come.

“It didn’t matter your faith or persuasion,” said Executive Director Rue Landau. “This was a great event for the city, bringing us together in front of the world. We got a chance to show who we really are and can be.”

Glimpsing a diverse world via German eyes

As one of the oldest municipal civil rights agencies in the United States, PCHR often is a magnet for international visitors who also are in public service. Last Friday, a delegation from Germany joined a long list of scholars that have popped by the offices to get a better sense of how this agency works in balancing protection of the rights of all in such a diverse society.

The German visitors – whose positions range from university settings to halls of government – spent a couple of hours exchanging insights with PCHR staff and commissioners last Friday. It was a diverse assembly, indeed.

Turkish-born Muhterem Aras, one of the first elected officials in Germany of an immigrant background, is the first Muslim woman in the state parliament of Baden-Wurttemberg. Homaira Mansury, an Afghani immigrant, is a city council member in Wurzburg and an official in the German Social Democratic Party. Serkan Salman, born to Turkish parents, is a law enforcement official and dispute resolution expert from Berlin who also lectures on intercultural competency at the Berlin Academy of Public Administration. Sebastian Johna is a project manager and trainer at the renowned Goethe Institut, where educators and others from abroad study the German language, culture and heritage.

Having toured Washington, D.C., the visitors soaked up insights and experiences in Philadelphia before heading to New York.

“It’s always exhilarating to hear from people who are engaged in this same kind of work elsewhere, especially as they seek to learn from us and give us greater perspective on what is happening on the ground in their own countries, in ways that are far deeper than what we typically read or see in the news,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “It was a great way to cap the week.”

Gaining a global perspective (back row, l-r) PCHR Commissioner Alfredo Calderon, Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Homaira Mansury of Wurzburg, Germany, Deputy Director Randy Duque, Commissioners Rebecca T. Alpert, Wei Chen, Regina Austin and Marshall E. Freeman and Sebastian Johna of the Goethe Institut. (front row, l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Muhterem Aras of the German Green Party, and Serkan Salman, an officer in Berlin’s Central Office for the Prevention Landeskriminalamt.

Gaining a global perspective (back row, l-r) PCHR Commissioner Alfredo Calderon, Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Homaira Mansury of Wurzburg, Germany, Deputy Director Randy Duque, Commissioners Rebecca T. Alpert, Wei Chen, Regina Austin and Marshall E. Freeman and Sebastian Johna of the Goethe Institut.
(front row, l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Muhterem Aras, German Green Party member of the Baden-Wurttemberg Parliament, and Serkan Salman, detective chief superintendent for the Office of Intercultural Issues, State Criminal Investigations Office in Berlin.

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 — Speak Up, Lace ‘Em Up.

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.

PCHR expands by two — officially

All sworn in! Wei Chen and Shalimar Thomas officially join the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations today after taking the oath of office from the Hon. Ida K. Chen.

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Wei Chen and Shalimar Thomas take the oath of office from the Hon. Ida K. Chen as Commissioner Marshall Freeman looks on.

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The Hon. Ida K. Chen adds her signature to certify the newest commissioners.

PCHR hosts French policymaker, exchanges ideas

PCHR routinely serves as a stopping point for foreign visitors looking to exchange ideas and solutions, and Tuesday was no different when Maguy Salomon dropped by to swap experiences with commissioners and key PCHR staff.

Maguay Salomon, a French lawmaker, contrasts her experiences to those of African-Americans and immigrants here during a meeting a lively conversation at PCHR. (l-r) Salomon, Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney.

Maguay Salomon, a French lawmaker, contrasts her experiences to those of African-Americans and immigrants here during a meeting a lively conversation at PCHR. (l-r) Salomon, Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney.

Salomon serves on 65-member council that manages Nantes, the sixth-largest city in France, a youthful, arts-and-letters locale on the western side of the country. She also directs the Louis Delgres Cultural Center, which focuses on advancing diversity and celebrating the region’s contemporary Franco-African culture and society.

Nantes also has a significant history in the 18th century French-African slave trade, leaving a rich multicultural imprint even through today. A number of residents can point to historical and contemporary African and Caribbean roots, as the city remains an attractive immigration destination. Violent actions by disaffected North African Muslims in Nantes have grabbed headlines in recent months.

Issues of identity and inclusion among people of color are not exclusive to the United States or foreign to France, Salomon said.

With a capable translator and guide from Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia, Salomon also made stops at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, the Anti-Defamation League and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to round out her trip and understanding of the city and its people.

A Franco-American dialogue on culture and society. (l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, Maguy Salomon, Commissioner Marshall Freeman and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney.

A Franco-American dialogue on culture and society. (l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, Maguy Salomon, Commissioner Marshall Freeman and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney.

“It was a fascinating exchange,” Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner said. “Even when there were times we could not find the exact words, I could feel her. I knew what she was talking about. That we could share that bond, share ideas on things to try, what has worked for us and what hasn’t, just heightens the relevance of this commission.”

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.”

Remembering Commission Chair Clarence Farmer Sr.

As an early executive director and then chair of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Clarence Farmer Sr. stood as a giant on the landscape of this city, with a reputation that spanned the nation. He passed away on Thursday, Jan. 30, at age 98, after a life well lived.

Farmer and Abernathy

Clarence Farmer Sr. (l.) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy prepare for the 1968 Poor People’s March.

“In many ways, for many people, he was the very emblem of the justice, fairness, and dignity every resident in this city would come to expect,” said Rue Landau, the commission’s executive director. “He understood clearly that the people of Philadelphia deserved nothing less.

“There’s a reason that Clarence Farmer – much like the historic names of Sadie T. M. AlexanderRobert C. Nix Jr., Cecil B. MooreEthel Allen and Hardy Williams – evokes such a shared sense of pride and admiration. He not only helmed this agency, but he also helped to shape its vision and a path toward ensuring inclusive policies and protections for all of this city’s residents,” Landau said.

Farmer was long a fixture at the intersection of civil rights and social justice – from helping to root out police brutality to amplifying the voices of disenfranchised parents and students of the School District of Philadelphia to pushing for equality in housing, employment and development across the city.

Farmer and Rizzo

Clarence Farmer Sr. (r.) stands next to then-Police Commissioner Frank L. Rizzo Sr. listening to a disgruntled South Philadelphia crowd lambaste integration at Bok High School.

While his tenure began during the tumultuous ‘60s, he remained an actively involved and engaged civic leader well through the mid-80s.

So committed was he in his beliefs, that Farmer once led a coalition of civil rights and human relations advocates in blocking a local appointment to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission during the Reagan Administration, charging the candidate was absent from, if not, insensitive to such concerns. He was a force with which to reckon.

“For decades, he has been one of the most respected public leaders in the history of the city,” said Marshall E. Freeman, a current commissioner and a Farmer mentee. “In life sometimes, you are honored and privileged to meet some people who are ‘called.’

“These people are strong in their convictions and they come to us without any built-in pretense about self-importance. They see their life’s mission as a charge to just do good. Clarence Farmer understood this,” Freeman said.

That drive to “do good” extended beyond work on the commission, as his efforts also focused on cultural uplift as a means of achieving equality and his activism expanded beyond the immediate work of the commission. Farmer was fully devoted to economic empowerment and educational opportunity as well.

Clarence Farmer Sr. at work

Clarence Farmer Sr. was as devoted to equality as he was to education and self-determination through economic means and cultural expression.

An early entrepreneur, he used his expertise to assist other would-be ventures to launch, focusing on underrepresented classes of businesses owners. He also helped to co-found both the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum of Philadelphia (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia) and the Black Tennis Foundation of Philadelphia Inc., an organization devoted to developing and supporting aspiring players. His board duties spanned the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. to the Center for Urban Theological Studies to The Philadelphia Tribune, among others.

“While he has earned his rest and we mourn the loss of this great man, we also intend to celebrate his life by continuing the work he pursued with such passion on behalf of neighbors of all colors, creeds, abilities, national origins and orientations,” Landau added.

In lieu of flowers, the Farmer Family asks that donations be made to the African American Museum in Philadelphia.