The yellow brick road in Philadelphia doesn’t lead to Oz. Instead, it leads to the Golden Block in Fairhill, the heart of the city’s Hispanic community on Fifth Street, stretching from Lehigh Avenue to Indiana Avenue.
When you walk the golden pathway you experience all this neighborhood has to offer. Restaurants, community centers, street vendors, music and clothing shops decorate this Latino commercial district. But for some the Golden Block has a deeper meaning. Life-long resident Erica DeJesus expressed her feelings about the neighborhood.
“The Golden Block to me means opportunity, it means togetherness, it means unity. I mean there’s music, there’s life and there’s help and there’s hope, “ said DeJesus.
Although this community has a rich Latin history, the local concern for many of the residents in and around the neighborhood is violence and crime.
“Of course, there’s drug dealers. Of course, you have people selling their bodies,” said DeJesus. She says she once worked a a drug dealer on the street, but now she’s a businesswoman, who is trying to help others.
“Right now I’m launching a project, ‘From Hood Girls to Good Girls.’ It’s a group of woman that don’t have their bachelor’s degree. Some are in high school or are working from home that want to improve other woman’s lives one block at a time,” said DeJesus.
However, she’s not the only person wanting to improve the Golden Block. Small business owners are helping to improve the neighborhood. Robert Shabazz, a musician and local craftsman, felt drawn to this Latin community.
“It is a nice place to be, the people are warm and welcoming down here. So that’s what it is,” said Shabazz.
The block also receives help from community advocacy groups. Shabazz has seen the efforts of the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises (HACE).
“They did implement a façade program which assists the merchants in the area to improve their facades,” said Shabazz.
There are several murals, commissioned by the city, on the Golden Block. They depict island life, celebrate woman and display Hispanic culture. But the real culture can be found on the street. John Dura, a Golden Block resident, believes unity will help this community overcome its struggles.
“Not only does the block represent love, but the block represents unity. If we going to sing together, we are going to sing together. If we have to pray together, we are going to pray together. If we going to climb the ladder together, let’s do it together. We are going to be successful together,” said Dura.
Little by little, business owners, residents and organizations like HACE are revitalizing the neighborhood. Although the Golden Block is under major construction, the rich history of the Latino culture is one aspect that does not need to be altered.