Last Saturday, about 200 community leaders from neighborhoods in West Philadelphia met at the High School of the Future on Parkside Avenue for Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s “Block Captain Boot Camp.”
The event aimed to connect community leaders with other block captains to exchange ideas, tips and tricks for engaging in the community and getting assistance from the city.
Before breaking into groups, Councilman Jones and his staff kicked off the event with the help of patients recovering from chemical dependencies at Guadenzia House in Northwest Philadelphia.
Blowing a whistle and wearing a straight brimmed drill sergeant’s hat, Samantha Williams marched into the auditorium with the men sporting navy jumpsuits.
Going by the nickname, “Silky Stackhouse,” Williams sternly ordered the volunteers in the audience to do jumping jacks and then made the men from Guadenzia do push-ups on stage.
“This is boot camp, not day camp!” she yelled, before kindly introducing the Councilman.
When Williams told the crowd to “drop and give me twenty” someone shouted back, “I’ll give you twenty bucks!”
Councilman Jones is currently running unopposed for Philadelphia City Councilman in the 4th district in the democratic primary on May 17.
“She’s actually my campaign manager,” Jones joked with the crowd after taking the stage, “so she bosses me around like she did the guys from Guadenzia House.”
Getting to the issues
The group then separated into groups for more than four hours of lectures and seminars.
In one of the seminars, a participant complained about a boat that has been sitting in a vacant lot on her street for a decade.
One block captain’s opinion was that if the police won’t help, then nothing can be done, but the room immediately erupted in disagreement.
“Everybody’s got a boss,” one block captain snapped back.
The conversation turned to the city’s various offices and how much power they each have.
The group was given a better understanding of city administration and which numbers to call with specific issues.
Becoming a resource for the community
Morgan Cephas is Jones’ Public Affairs Coordinator, and the organizer of the event.
She explains that to be a block captain, you can gather signatures from your neighbors or “just be active, love where you live, and be attuned to what your neighbors need.” She added that block captains should be a resource for their communities.
Manny Arroyo works at Guadenzia House and accompanied the rehab patients to the High School of the Future.
He and his crew have been assisting Jones in his “Alleyways and Driveways Initiative,” which has so far removed trash and weeds from 40 privately owned spaces.
Homeowners and block captains that cannot find the time to maintain upkeep along the sides of the property can get assistance from Jones and volunteers from Guadenzia.
Arroyo says, “Clean ups, alleys, streets… We’ll do anything that’s compatible to our organization and the needs of the community.”
Block captains are the ‘boots on the ground’
In between workshops, community leaders exchanged helpful tips with one another in the halls of the high school before returning to the seminars.
One block captain advised another, “He’s the guy to call, and when he says it’s okay, it’s done.”
The seminar topics ranged from “policing your block” to “college student housing” to “maintaining your neighborhood.”
Clyde Kennedy, 68, came out on Saturday, to see Councilman Jones Jr, who he remembers from back when he served as his hall monitor.
“I remember him running down the halls of Overbrook High. He was a jitterbug,” Kennedy recalls.
The “Block Captain Boot Camp” has attracted attention from leaders in the city who live outside of Jones’ district. Several community leaders from Tioga attended as well as eighth district City Council hopeful, Cindy Bass.
Mayor Nutter arrived at the end of the day to present certificates to those that participated.
Jones reminded the volunteers, who had been at the school since 8 a.m, that they were the “boots on the ground” and that he and the rest of City Council “are going to work on the issues of the day through the eyes of the block captains.”