The first time I stepped into North Philly proper, I think I was 14. A couple blocks away from Sharswood, at Murrell Dobbins CTE. I took the Broad Street line up from Germantown/Mt. Airy, got off at Broad and Lehigh, unsure of the futuristic details but sure of the future itself, and waited for the 54. Back then we had beige or black pants, to match the 8-story building, and white polo shirts, for uniform. Getting off at 22nd and Lehigh, this would be the start of my engagement with North Philly.
At Dobbins, I joined the poetry club: I still remember reciting Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. Later, I juggled this commitment with a film club lead by Big Picture Alliance. That year, in 2009, I performed poetry onstage for the first time, in front of 200 + people, with Sonia Sanchez, Yolanda Wisher, and my fellow “Yungblood” poets in Vernon park, and I starred in my first movie.
By my Sophomore year, I would start at the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, on Judson Street, taking digital music making/business courses, film, and enrolling in a program called Digital Connectors where we learned tech literacy and practical computer skills; the film program at Dobbins, called Big Picture Alliance, was going strong with my schedule.
When Junior year came around I was well into training at New Freedom Theatre, on Master Street. At New Freedom Theatre I gathered some of the most core experiences and values that other artists should have; and at Freedom Theatre, I learned some of the history of North Philly, I learned what it would mean to exist in the world as I do - Black - and be an artist. I performed with ensembles, adhered to professional call-times, learned how to pour Libations, formed a discipline and self-love around myself. I began to see myself differently, chanting “I respect myself!” and hearing “You are beautiful” in return. This changed my world, I realize.
As I look back on my time in sections of North Philly, and look forward to learning specifics of Sharswood, I see how much I have been influenced and shaped by this side of the city. My grandfather and grandmother found love on the streets of Strawberry Mansion. I have, in a way, been here well before I was aware.
North Philly has been with me for a long time. For the reader, maybe North Philly has been with you for an even longer period of time. Maybe not. Whatever the case, we would to hear and experience your history with this neighborhood. Spaces are not simply bought out by the city, named, and that’s the end of it - no. These spaces belongs to us, the people - especially those with historical, and very tangible, roots to said spaces. So, come: share with us your memories, and your visions of the future.