What’s Good In The Hood
Love & Community: People Are What’s Good In The Hood
Kids, and Grands are our neighborhood’s tiny teachers and super heroes
There are millions of good, honest, hard working people in the hood. Whether we’re cast, stuck or temporarily dropped here on your way to “movin’ on up” like The Jeffersons- it’s the people who make the hood good.
My hood is Philly. West Philly, The Bottom/Mantua section helped raise me from a wide eyed, innocent country girl from the Eastern Shores of Maryland who spent her weekends in SE DC Wahler Street housing projects and the DMV Silver Spring, Glenolden areas.
But it was North Philly/Susquehanna Ave. that taught me that children and Grandmothers are the hood’s secret angels and super heroes. It was my students who watched me walk to the train and many Grands (Ms. Cora, Ms. Chen, Ms. Ronnie, Ms. Helen, etc.) who told their relatives to look out for me all these years.
Everything I learned about love and community came from the people in my original, all Black neighborhood — a nice, working class cul-de-sac on the Eastern Shore and then the densely packed, fast moving streets of Philly with its country undertones (like Baltimore and many other cities). Young city folk may be ruling the streets, but they lived in homes with southern, country roots where Grandmothers showed you southern hospitality and love through the best hugs and food in the world. These Grandmothers tell the truth served straight, no chaser or covered with the sweet honey of a story, fable or question that made you ponder the next decision you were about to make.
Sadly, the crack epidemic destroyed a lot of Black and brown families with addiction and mass incarceration. Yet, back in the 80’s and to this day a lot of families are held intact by praying Grandmothers. In the hood, there’s always smart children to remind you of God and humanity’s goodness.
A child’s wisdom
Just today, I saw a sweet little girl fall on the ice, cry a little and ask, “Mommy why didn’t you hold my hand, I bump my head, I’m ok — but hold my hand”. Her cute little afro puffs probably protected her a little but, kids in the hood have to be teachers and learners at the same time. Hood life is so hard and moves so fast — even in the sweet, tender moments.
I had to smile, because that was something my child would have said to me.
My first year at the University of Pennsylvania, my creative writing advisor, Lorene Cary helped me get a summer fellowship through a partnership with her church and the Samuel Fels Fund. I was hooked. This summer experiment changed my life and the trajectory of my career as a writer, educator and juvenile justice advocate.
From there I devoted my life to working with children in Philly. I worked at great early childhood programs like The Spring School of the Arts and other NAEYC accredited programs. The next two summers I was a servant leader for Freedom Schools. Some of my fondest memories were from the CDF trainings at Alex Haley’s Farm in Tennessee: meeting young aspiring educators from across the country, the rites of passage ceremony and trainings, readings and teaching from Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Anthony Browder.
Living and learning
I moved to Philly when I was 18 and never looked back. It was the young mothers on my block who taught me how to blend in and not get robbed when I went to work at 3 am. It was also my family, experiences and temperament that made me cautious and always ready to face anyone who tried me and fight with every tool and resource — mind, mouth, hands or anything handy. Every hood teaches Black and brown girls that safety is a never to be assumed or taken for granted…
However, it would be those same streets that cautioned me to “calm down” and enjoy the simple things like:
- Water ice from Siddiq’s or Kings — THE BEST and I got love for Rita’s too
- Cheesesteak platters from Lee’s Hoagie house on Lancaster Ave. (The Ave.), or our local stores where the owners tell you to call him “Pop or Papi”
- Sitting on the stoop listening to Power 99 or WDAS talking and laughing all night while your neighbors took turns peeking on you
- Block parties for the kids and cookouts in Fairmount Park (like Will rapped about) with all the neighborhood grill masters and mistresses cuz Philly is an equal opportunity grilling city .
And yes, I did Freaknik and honestly can say it had its good and seriously crazy moments — (mostly from “out of town” people) but again — it was Philly brothas (Riq, Sheed an’ nem” — The “Na’mean” brothas) that made sure we got back home safe and sound.
On a weird transition, later it would be my own child and my adjudicated students that showed love and community on a whole other level. My son was my little teacher and ray of sunshine in the midst of hoodtastic adventures and mess. Our blocks were tiny villages. We took turns watching each other’s kids play in the street and you had to live right because our kids would tell “all our business”.
Those were the good ol’ days when you could knock on your neighbors door to chat, borrow some salt or sugar or ask them to watch your child or house. A lot of neighborhoods still have this — Philly has a unique phenomena of whole families living on the same street or block. There are some kids who can seek refuge in 3 or more houses because their Grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins live in close proximity and this regardless of race.
You can find these beautiful family clusters in North Philadelphia, South Philly with Italian families and throughout the city with Black, West Indian, African and Latino families — now it’s in our surrounding suburbs with Asian and eastern European families.
You can say what you want about Philly — but it’s the people that make Philadelphia beautiful. Philly is the home of Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, The Roots, Will Smith, Jazmine Sullivan, Boyz to Men, Meek Mills, The Philadelphia Sound, Gamble and Huff (where I thought I was going to be gospel and jazz singer…don’t ask and I won’t tell). Thank you to Sandra Turner-Barnes at the Blue Moon? who let me ad-lib a few times and Wilhilemenas and Black Lily for late night spoken word… Snaps all around.
It’s also home to many Black historical sites and an outstanding Black and brown food scene with Relish and Warm Daddy’s from the Bynum Hospitality Group owned by the Bynum brothers, Benjamin and Robert and Distrito from celebrity chef, Jose Garces owner of Garces Group.
I’ve got love for my hood, because the people in my hood love, protected and taught me many valuable lessons.
This Valentines day I want to say a special thank you to my Philly angels in West, Southwest and North Philadelphia:
Ms. Helen Speach — my beloved God mother who turned 85 years old this week and her beautiful family, Carolyn, Jason, Jeremy, Andre, and Wayne, Jr. and Uncle Buster, and everyone in the family that loved, fed and nurtured me and my son
Keisha Carter and all The Carters
Lisa and Don Hayden
Lynetta and Eric Funchess
Monifa Young and Aissia Richardson and their beautiful families, and a Philadelphia icon and legend, Ms. Lind Richardson (RIP)
Dr. King and his wife — for summer church camps
Stephon Shores (RIP)
Veronica aka Ronnie (from National Baptist Church)
Lorene Cary and Dr. Herman Beavers from the University of Pennsylvania
Ms. Ardie Brown (RIP) and Patricia Robinson founders of The Spring School of The Arts and the former staff and students and parents
Charisse Collier (RIP)
ECS, NSCC, SDP, staff and students and special thank
The Bethea Family
E3 Southwest kids and Philadelphia Youth Network, Reggie, Ms. Pat and Marcy
CDF and Philadelphia Freedom Schools, Isa Clark, Darnetta Fuller
The students and OST staff from Belmont Charter
And the countess students I’ve taught over the years and their wonderful parents