Kids and Grands are our neighborhood’s tiny teachers and hometown heroes
There are millions of good, honest, hard-working people in “the hood”. Whether we’re cast, stuck, or temporarily dropped here on our way to “movin’ on up” like The Jeffersons- it’s the people who make the hood good.
My hood is Philly. West Philly, The Bottom/Mantua section helped raise me from a wide-eyed, innocent country girl from the Eastern Shores who spent her weekends in SE DC Wahler Street projects and the DMV — Silver Spring, and Potomac Mills.
But it was North Philly, 18th and Susquehanna Avenue that taught me that children and Grandmothers are the hood’s secret angels and superheroes. It was my students who watched me walk to and from the train and many Grands (Ms. Cora, Ms. Chen, Ms. Ronnie, Ms. Helen, etc.) who told their children and other relatives to look out for me all these years.
Everything I learned about love and community came from the people in my original, all Black neighborhood — a nice, working-class cul-de-sac on the Eastern Shore and then the densely packed, fast-moving streets of Philly with its country undertones (like Baltimore and many other cities). Young city kids may rule the streets, but they often live in homes with country roots where Grandmothers showed you southern hospitality and love through the best hugs and food in the world. These Grandmothers tell the truth served straight, no chaser or covered with the sweet honey of a story, fable, or question that made you ponder your decisions.
These praying Grandmothers are deeply connected and dedicated to their church and community — most likely serving on every church and neighborhood board. They vote in every election and rally their families and community to do the same. She is what Chaka and Whitney sang about — she’s a matriarch of her family, church, and community. She is the pillar, the mouthpiece, and sometimes protector and gatekeeper of the neighborhood. Everyone respected her from the guys on the corner to high-ranking officials. Miss, Mother, Momma or Auntie So-and-So was strong, but always had a warm, soft hug, hot plate, care package, or knew where you could find one.
Sadly, the war on drugs and the crack epidemic destroyed a lot of Black and brown families and traditions with addiction and mass incarceration. Yet, back in the ’80s and to this day a lot of families are held intact by these amazing Grandmothers and their children. In the hood, there are always smart children to remind us of God and humanity’s goodness and grace.
A child’s wisdom
I saw a sweet little girl fall, cry a little and ask, “Mommy why didn’t you hold my hand, I bumped my head, I’m ok — but hold my hand”. Her cute, little afro puffs probably acted as a small cushion but, kids in the hood have to be teachers and learners at the same time. Hood life is so hard and moves so fast — even in the sweet, tender moments.
I had to smile because that was something my child would have said to me.
In my first year at the University of Pennsylvania, my creative writing advisor, Lorene Cary helped me get a summer fellowship through a partnership with The Church of The Advocate, Episcopal Community Services (ECS) and the Samuel Fels Fund. I was hooked. This summer experiment changed my life and the trajectory of my career as a writer, educator, and juvenile justice advocate.
That summer, I devoted my life to working with children in Philly. I worked at great early childhood programs like The Spring School of the Arts and other NAEYC accredited programs. The next two summers I was a servant-leader for Freedom Schools. Some of my fondest memories were from the CDF trainings at Alex Haley’s Farm in Tennessee: meeting young aspiring educators from across the country, the rites of passage ceremony and trainings, readings and teachings from Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Anthony Browder. This experience helped shape my guiding principles and offered evergreen, culturally competent best practices in teaching, and mentoring children, youth. It also helped me coach and train other educators, direct service providers, and administrators.
Living and learning
I moved to Philly after high school and never looked back. It was a young mother on my block who taught me how to blend in and not get robbed when I went to work at 3 am. It was also my family, experiences, and temperament that made me cautious and always ready to face anyone who tried me and fight with every tool and resource — mind, mouth, hands, or anything handy. Every hood teaches Black and brown girls that safety is never to be assumed or taken for granted…
However, it would be those same streets that cautioned me to “calm down” and enjoy the simple things like:
- Water ice from Siddiq’s or Kings — THE BEST and I got love for Rita’s too
- Cheesesteak platters from Lee’s Hoagie House on Lancaster Ave. (The Ave.), or our local stores where the owners tell you to call him “Pop or Papi”
- Sitting on the stoop listening to Power 99 or WDAS talking and laughing all night while your neighbors took turns peeking on you
- Block parties for the kids and cookouts in Fairmount Park (like Will rapped about) with all the neighborhood grill masters and mistresses cuz Philly is an equal opportunity grilling city.
And yes, I did Freaknik and honestly can say it had its good and seriously crazy moments — (mostly from “out of town” people). Philly brothas (Riq, Sheed an’ nem” — The “Na’mean” brothas) made sure my friends and I got back home safe and sound.
On a weird transition, later it would be my own child and my adjudicated students that showed me love and community on a whole other level. My son was my little teacher and ray of sunshine in the midst of hoodtastic adventures and mess. Our block was tiny villages. We took turns watching each other’s kids play in the street and you had to live right because our kids and neighbors would tell “all our business”.
Those were the good ol’ days when you could knock on your neighbor’s door to chat, borrow some salt or sugar, or ask them to watch your child or house. A lot of neighborhoods still have this. Philly has a unique phenomenon of whole families living on the same street or block. There are some kids who can still seek refuge in 3 or more houses because their Grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins live in close proximity and this is regardless of race.
You can find these beautiful family clusters in North Philadelphia, South Philly with Italian families and throughout the city with Black, West Indian, African, and Latino families — now it’s in our surrounding suburbs with Asian and Eastern European families.
You can say what you want about Philly — but it’s the people that make Philadelphia beautiful. Philly is the home of Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, The Roots, Will Smith, Jazmine Sullivan, Boyz to Men, Meek Mills, The Philadelphia Sound, Gamble and Huff (where I thought I was going to be a gospel and jazz singer…don’t ask and I won’t tell). Thank you to Sandra Turner-Barnes at the Blue Moon? who let me ad-lib a few times and Wilhilemenas and Black Lily for late-night spoken word… Snaps all around.
It’s also home to many Black historical sites and an outstanding Black and brown food scene with Relish, South, and Warm Daddy’s from the Bynum Hospitality Group owned by the Bynum brothers, Benjamin and Robert and Distrito from celebrity chef, Jose Garces owner of Garces Group. I also learned about the vegan and vegetarian soul options from Basic 4, Govindas, and the vegetarian food cart on UPenn’s campus. Saads and Bilal’s taught me about halal food… I remember Big Georges on 52nd Street and taking the El to get strawberry shortcakes from Tiffany’s Bakery in the Gallery.
I’ve got love for my hood, because the people in my hood love, protected and taught me so many valuable lessons. I hope to give a little back every day as I age, and reminisce about the goodness of my gritty, complicated city of Philadelphia.
I want to say a special thank you to my Philly angels and hometown heroes in West, Southwest, and North Philadelphia that helped teach, protect and nurture, me and my family.
Picture credit: www.visitphilly.com
© T. Price 2022 All Rights Reserved - Modified from the original article on Medium.com