A proud and determined block in West Oak Lane

For the residents of Ogontz Avenue between Andrews Avenue and Middleton Street, an invested block captain and caring neighbors have helped their sliver of West Oak Lane maintain peacefulness and achieve a strong sense of community.

Here, as in other parts of the city, block captains serve as a liaison between the neighbors and the larger community.

They are well-known and highly respected, like in the case of Johnnie Stitt, a longtime block captain who has maintained the positivity on the 7000 block of Ogontz Ave. by being committed to her fellow neighbors and community.

“[Stitt] does an excellent job,” said resident Algene Miles. “She’s very interested and concerned, and she’s a person that gets the information and a real good leader. She really is.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Friendly and supportive neighbors have also helped the block thrive as a place where everyone knows, and looks out for, one another.

“It’s a wonderful block,” said Miles’ wife Bernice. “The neighbors are very caring. They’re concerned.”

Success doesn’t come overnight

Oliver Ancrum Sr. has lived on the block for more than four decades. His opinion of the neighborhood is just as positive now as it was 40 years ago.

“I moved here June of 1969, been living here ever since,” Ancrum said last week. “I got a daughter and her family living next door to me, and they’ve been here for about 26 years, I believe. As far as the block goes, we got a good block. We got good neighbors, very good neighbors.”

Ancrum has contributed by keeping his property clean which has rubbed off to the point that each property is kept up. This results in unity and a collective sense of working to maintain and improve together.

“Everyone takes pride in and care of their lawn,” said Ancrum, as he worked in his garden.

It’s a busy street

Since Ogontz Avenue is a main thoroughfare, the block experiences high levels of traffic.

Debra Brown has spent the past six years as a crossing guard at the corner of Ogontz Avenue and Middleton Street.

“The area is busy, very busy,” Brown said. “It’s a lot of children and people, but everybody’s going where they go and doing what they do.

“Only danger I feel is the cars. That’s why I’m careful in the street and out with the kids. As far as with bodily harm, I really haven’t experienced any of that.”

In regards to the area in which Brown works, she simply smiled and said, “It’s good, it’s good, and the little kids make it all worthwhile.”

Negativity rarely surfaces

Ancrum agreed that the block has not suffered from serious issues.

“Every now and then, like any neighborhood, you got a little discrepancy but it’s very minor, no major discrepancies,” he said.

The residents would still like to have police presence in the area again, though.

“One complaint we have [is that] they took our police [and] bicycle cops away,” Bernice Miles said. “We want them back, especially now that it’s getting warm and they can patrol the driveways.”

Henry Davis Jr., a resident of 12 years, explained that the neighborhood has been fairly pleasant to live in, but conceded no one should be naïve about potential dangers.

“Well it’s not too bad, it’s not too bad,” he said. “But, remember one thing: Everybody is not your friend. A lot of people smile, but they’re not your friend.”

Bicycle cops were an asset to the block and its surrounding area due to easy accessibility. Heavy traffic and narrow side streets did not hinder their ability to patrol the area.

With those officers moved elsewhere, residents have taken matters into their own hands. They look out for one another in order to help prevent illegal or violent acts from occurring on the block.

This has become another way to bolster pride in neighborhood and maintain a strong sense of community.

“On a whole, it’s a very good block,” Bernice Miles said.


Jessie Fox and Kaila Gantt are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal