Anti-violence march, boxing exhibition and Kenny Gamble tribute highlight rain-soaked Nicetown festival

This weekend, the Nicetown Community Development Corp.’s 10th annual “Give Back Festival” featured a Walk for Peace, blood-pressure and other health screenings, a giant orange moonbounce, a boxing exhibition, an award for Kenny Gamble, music and, at certain points, a bunch of rain.

Chanting slogans like “Down with dope, up with hope,” droves of “Walk for Peace” marchers went through Nicetown on Saturday with a message that neighborhood conflicts have gotten out of hand. Neighbors watched from their front porches and peeked out of windows.

Joshua Crump, a football coach who marched with his Nicetown Titans team, said it was important to see the younger generation participating in the anti-violence demonstration.

“We need to back them,” he said, “because they are the future at the end of the day.”

“Put the guns down!” one player shouted to the small crowd of neighbors with a passion that said he’d wanted to yell it for quite some time.

Making a difference

Peggy Sims, a West Oak Lane resident who has participated throughout the march’s 10 years, said the message she hoped to share is that real change comes from within, not by waiting for police intervention.

“Start taking care of your own household first,” Sims said. “You know where the guns are going and where they are coming from. Anytime children can get a hold of guns before they can get a hold of books, [that] says something about your parenting.”

Boxing exhibition a draw

After the march, dozens of folks from Nicetown and beyond sat ringside to watch amateur boxers take to a ring in the shadows of the Roosevelt Boulevard.

Many of the young men and women train at local gyms like the Happy Hollow Recreation Center in Germantown while others hailed from West Philadelphia or even New Jersey.

Nate Miller, the cruiserweight champion of the world from 1995 till 1997 who volunteers at Happy Hollow, came to the match with championship belt in tow.

Miller recounted the days in the 1980s when he saw boxers in a Germantown gym. That left him wanting to learn how to do so himself.

“The rest, they say, is history,” he said with a grin. “Anybody can fight. Well, it’s an art as well. Boxing shows your talent.”

Sports as a diversion

Since retiring in 2001, Miller has become a consultant at local gyms. He said the sport can sometimes steer youth away from gangs and other distractions.

“You have to stay focused,” he said. “That’s number one.”

Ivan Robinson, an event organizer and former lightweight champion of the world, said he saw 2016 Olympics potential in local youth.

He added that he plans to help assemble a Happy Hollow boxing team to compete at tournaments across the country and even in Canada.

“I just want to give back and help the community as much as I can,” he said, noting the Give Back Festival is meant for just that.

Asked whether the peace march and boxing matches offered contradictory messages, Robinson noted, “The ‘Walk for Peace’ is a symbol for peace in the neighborhood, but boxing is a way for people to come out and see the talent we have in this neighborhood.”

Other attractions

Weather did not fully cooperate with plans for a concert and community-service award presentation to music pioneer and community activist Kenny Gamble.

When dark clouds pack over the festival field for the third time, the concert scheduled to feature The Sound of Philadelphia with Bill Jolly, The Delphonics, Billy Paul and Amazing Grace was canceled around 8 p.m. Saturday.

Even with the field soaked and no music on stage, many festival goers stuck around.

“I didn’t miss the music, I can hear the same music on the radio” said Michelle Noland of Nicetown. “At least they [Kenneth Gamble and William Hart] came to represent. That is all that makes a difference.”

Forced inside Nicetown Courts due to that rain, Nicetown CDC CEO Zakariyya Abdur-Rahman and COO Majeedah A. Rashid presented Gamble an award for outstanding community service anyway.

At the end of the night, Destinee Maree performed an a cappella TSOP-tribute for Gamble, who was celebrating his 69th birthday.

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