Open communication and cooperation.
For those working to improve Germantown and other Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods, the pairing is paramount.
“If we could just get each group here, I’d be so happy. If you send me what you’re doing, I can tap into that to my people and we can build,” Rev. Chester Williams, president of the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Clubs, said during a Thursday-morning discussion among area community development corporations and other nonprofits.
Networking and more
Sylvie Gallier-Howard, assistant commerce director at the city’s Commerce Department, also participated in the discussion facilitated by Misson Incorporated, a Germantown-based incubator for fledling nonprofits.
The pairing, however, has not always been present among Germantown stakeholders.
Over the years, neighborhood leaders and organizations have routinely clashed with one another. State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, for one, would like to see that discord disappear.
“We can’t keep this monkey on our back as we move forward,” said Kinsey, who co-organized and hosted the meeting at his Germantown Avenue office.
Setting the compass
During the nearly two-hour meeting, participants discussed Northwest Philadelphia’s strengths (activism, diversity, civic engagement) and weaknesses (poverty, public education, lack of business anchors).
They also discussed the future if residents and lawmakers don’t use the area’s talents to tackle its shortcomings.
Joe Martin, interim director of the revamped Germantown Special Services District, had a one word response that seemingly caught at least a couple people off-guard: “Egypt.”
“If you watched the news last night, you saw people fighting in the street, you saw disorder, you saw lack of government, anarchy, death, hopelessness,” he continued.
Andy Trackman, board president of Germantown United CDC, worries about burnout among his counterparts.
People, he said, need to see that their work is making a difference.
Others, like Terri Grantham, project manager at the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, were concerned the community would rapidly gentrify.
Towards the end of the meeting, the group discussed next steps.
Talk zeroed in on how hands-on Kinsey and Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass would be in guiding neighborhood progress.
Kinsey said that he and Bass would simply be there to support ideas generated by, ideally, a united community so that residents are truly driving the change.
“You guys have the power to build a coalition,” he said. “We simply want to see fairness in it.”
It’s all part of an effort by Kinsey and Bass to make it easier to direct city and state funding to the appropriate organization, but also have those organizations working with and supporting one another, he said.
After the meeting, Trackman said that he’s optimistic that Germantown can be restored to past greatness. He pointed to Kinsey and Bass’ leadership as one reason why.
“The new political leadership in the neighborhood has had a huge, positive impact,” said Trackman. “The accessibility is unprecedented.”
Efforts like Thursday’s event “show that they’re serious and want to reach out as much as they can,” he added.
Martin also said he’s encouraged by the current state of things.
“It’s better now than ever before,” he said. “I think the excitement level is up.”
Martin was particularly encouraged by the way the community recently responded to Camelot Schools’ pitch to bring three of its alternative education programs to the now-shuttered Germantown High School building.
The concept didn’t earn unanimous community support, but several community stakeholders opted to support the for-profit company to fill what would become another vacant building in Germantown.
“We made lemonade out of lemons by Germantown being closed,” said Martin. “That, from my perspective, is the biggest time when I’ve been here that people have been unified and so now we’re looking around at what other things can we take advantage of. It’s a very exciting time.”