Nzadi Keita, a writer and teacher, said the personal, professional, artistic and academic connection she feels with her neighborhood was given form through the Toni Cade Bambara/Germantown Stories Project.
The project’s origins can be found in a June writing workshop Keita facilitated at the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library.
The project itself could be seen Sunday afternoon when workshop members joined fellow residents at the Germantown Life Enrichment Centetr to share writing and stories reflective of their personal experiences of the neighborhood.
“This gathering marks an end to the first phase of Germantown Stories,” said Keita. “Germantown has always been a source of inspiration for me, in that when I am here, I am always in the past and the present at the same time. Every intersection is layered with memories from my life here.”
For Keita, the Germantown Stories Project has provided space for community members to explore, through storytelling, their own experiential geographies of the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood.
She said she believes that there is a certain quality-of-life historically belonging to the neighborhood, and storytelling is one way that it could be brought to expression.
For Sunday afternoon’s writers and photographers, many of those memories are indelibly linked to the neighborhood’s shared public spaces.
Nods and murmurs of recognition and affirmation circulated the room as words and images again and again called out one community haunt or another.
For Keita’s aunt, Mary Williams, “the most important things growing up were home, school and church.”
Her statement most succinctly encapsulated the group’s shared sense that there exists a deep set of relationships between place, memory and experience.
Williams recalled walking multiple times a week to and from the Methodist church her family attended. The experience was indicative of “the kind of life we had: walking and talking and having fun, walking up and down Germantown Avenue,” she said.
For photographer Tieshka Smith, such experiences are part of what makes Germantown “a magical place.”
In her work — and in the other stories, poems, anecdotes and photographs shared — there was a discernible desire to, as Smith said, “show the beauty [of Germantown] that people might otherwise overlook or take for granted.”
As Victoria Peurifoy put it, “Now that I am a performer, I find that Germantown is a mecca for the arts, but I’m just glad to call this place my home.”
Reading as part of the Germantown Stories Project were Deborah Curtiss, Karen Smith, Vicoria Peurifoy, Felicia Coward, Mary Williams, Sigmund Jackson, Paula Paul, Lenny Belasco, Runett Ebo and Maleka Fruean. Photographers presenting work were Gary Reed, Jill Saul and Tieshka Smith.