The Church of the Advocate, located on the corner of 18th and Diamond streets, is a fundamental organization in the North Philadelphia community, because of its rich history and its consistent contributions to the people in the neighborhood. The Advocate was built towards the end of the 19th century, and it continues to be praised for its classic architecture. The church has housed major political movements having to do with women’s and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, including the National Conference of Black Power, the Black Panther Conference and the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church.
The Advocate is a crucial piece of the civil rights movement history in the North Philadelphia region, and it’s become a stop on the “History of the Civil Rights Movement” tour, a branch of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation. While visitors tour the church, they can go through a series of murals made to copy the “stations” of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but in the form of the civil rights movement instead.
The Church of the Advocate houses a large variety of different programs available for both children and adults in the North Philadelphia community. There are 10 programs in total that serve the area, but The Advocate continues to touch its neighbors in and out of these programs. Kevin Howard, 50, who has lived in North Philadelphia all his life, says, “We need places like this in this community to keep the kids off the street and to keep the trouble down.” Howard is a regular of the church’s soup kitchen, which has fed the community for over 25 years. It runs Monday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m. every week.
Other programs include an after-school program for children collaborating with Philadelphia Reads, a program that works with the Philadelphia School District and the Free Library in “Raising a City of Readers.” There are also family-building programs, such as “Time Out for Teens and Tots,” a parenting and support program for teen mothers and their children, and “Family Night,” which offers parent education and support. There is also “Grands as Parents,” which helps out working parents with grandparents serving as caregivers of children during working hours.
All of the programs available at the Church of the Advocate would be impossible to run without the help and support of the loyal volunteers from in and out of the community. Most of the volunteers at the church were once helped by someone else in the past and are finding a way to give back to their community. Tywanda Boone, 40, is from the Northeast, but she now resides in the neighborhood. Boone says, “I used to be homeless myself, so you know, I have a heart for that.” Another volunteer, Alphonson Skinner, 61, says, “Somebody helped me once, so I figure I return to the neighborhood with my kindness and understanding.”
Kevin Howard, a regular at the soup kitchen, says, “The volunteers, whether they get paid or not, they treat you like they get paid.”
Christopher Hamlin, one of the youngest volunteers at the church, grew up within the community, “I’ve been coming here since I was 3. They all saw me grow up.” As Hamlin puts it, “I’ve been coming here since I was 3, and I’ve been volunteering here since I was 3.”
Loretta Carter has been a longtime resident and volunteer with the church and its variety of programs. She’s lived in the community for 18 years and she used to cook in the kitchen for the Advocate’s soup kitchen. Carter and her husband have been inspired by the progressive programs dealing with children and education displayed at the Church of the Advocate. Carter is now in school at Philadelphia Community College for secondary children’s education and her husband is a teacher’s assistant at Duckery, a nearby elementary school.
Carter has continued to work with the church and has had her entire family grow up within the Advocate and its programs, “I brought 3 daughters and maybe about 6 grandchildren through the advocate program.” When asked, why the Advocate? What is it that this church provides for you and your community? Carter answers, “It was something for your children to do, and it was somewhere you didn’t have to worry about your children.”
The Church of the Advocate continues to play a major role in the families of the North Philadelphia community with its progressive programs, but the church also continues to be a center of fun and creativity for the young and old. The church houses an art program called “art sanctuary,” and it also houses special holiday dances and parties for its neighbors.
There’s a rich history at the Church of the Advocate and a continuous sense of growth and passion housed in the heart of the community.