Equitable neighborhood development depends on overcoming racism, hate and fear

The corner of Fairmount and Corinthian marks the southwestern corner of Philadelphia's Francisville neighborhood.

The corner of Fairmount and Corinthian marks the southwestern corner of Philadelphia's Francisville neighborhood. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Speak Easy is examining issues of neighborhood development in Philadelphia. How can city leaders help us achieve a fair future for long-term residents and newcomers alike? Seeking diverse perspectives on these issues, NewsWorks is hosting a public forum, “Philadelphia Neighborhoods in Flux,” on April 21 at WHYY studios. Registration is free at whyy.org/speakeasy.

When considering the question “What do I feel has been the most challenging issue for me with regard to my work?” the most difficult thing I’ve had to contend with are the barriers to communication created by prejudice and fear, particularly within my own ethnic group.

Enmity between economic classes, even when the people are of the same ethnic group, has been the most frustrating, heartbreaking and hardest thing for me to navigate. I grew up with people who now consider me the enemy because I’m about being inclusive with my organization, the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation, and my approach to community development.

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The bottom line is, this: In order to effectuate real change with regard to economic equitability, we will have to transcend racism, fear, and hate — and work together as humans to preserve our species and our planet, big picture. Still the thing that causes me the most lost sleep is how to get through to those who need the information I have the most.

If I am to be completely honest, I should tell you that learning to understand and cope with this phenomenon in order to keep focused on the larger picture has been an uphill battle for which I am grateful. It has inspired me to find real solutions. Nonetheless it is a path I sometimes wish I did not have to travel.

There were many times I felt like walking away and just letting the haters have it, but I’ve seen what can be done when we transcend fear, hate and racism. I’ve demonstrated it over and over again, so I have to remain positive and hopeful for the haters.

I focus on attracting humans of like mind now, and not on who is angry with me. I realize now that poverty makes humans behave very badly, so I try to keep that foremost on my mind. That keeps me from being angry and drives me to keep moving forward.

Penelope Giles is the founder and executive director of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation.

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