The residents of Nicetown/Tioga want young people to save the neighborhood.
“Young people need to know that this isn’t it. They can do better, be better. There are better things out there. They can make it out of Philly if they want. Sometimes they get stuck in all this negativity and don’t realize what else is there,” Miranda Pridgen, a Tioga resident of 27 years.
While the city and state government try to help rebuild the area through Section 8 housing and job programs, the community continues to live in poverty. In 2009, almost 43 per cent of the area’s residents lived below the poverty line, according to city-data.com.
“People got to start caring. Nothing’s going to change if people don’t make it,” Sarah Solloman said. She has lived in the neighborhood for almost 51 years.
Many other older residents of the area have shared similar sentiments. They have been calling upon the younger generations to step up and actively work to better their community. The individuals and groups who have done so and answered the call have become shining examples of what one community can done for itself.
Miranda Pridgen was 13 when she first became involved in groups such as the Boys and Girls Club, but it was not later that she said she realized her calling to change her neighborhood. In 1996, the body of a college girl was discovered brutally murdered in a vacant lot at 16th and Indiana streets. Pridgen remembered wanting to turn a place of death and sadness into something beautiful in the girl’s memory. Pridgen wanted to create a special and happy place to remember her by.
She began a crusade to clean up a build a garden in that lot. Her personal task eventually became a project that included the entire community. She brought dozens of volunteers to pick up trash and create the garden that she herself designed. Today, Hope Park still stands in the same corner as a memorial to the girl and a testament of what a community working together can accomplish.
However, Pridgen’s story has become the exception, not the rule. Around the time of the creation of Hope Park, the U.S. Census reported that there were 57,125 people living in Nicetown. Of that, there were 11,360 people ages 5 to 14. Almost 20 per cent of the population was the same age bracket as Pridgen.
In that same year, there were 5,867 people ages 18 to 24, the age where people are expected to begin making money, find permanent jobs and give back to their community. However, only about 37 per cent of those residents graduated high school. Only 131 people have received bachelors degrees.
Today, Pridgen’s age group has become the generation community members have looked to create the much needed change. City-data.com reported that the community grew to 69,464 residents by 2009. Of that, only about 12 per cent are community members who grew up in the same age bracket as Pridgen and remained in the area. Only about 49 per cent of the community had high school diplomas in 2009.
“I grew up with so much negativity around me. There were drugs and other things on the streets where I lived. There’s a lot of stuff that can bring you down if you grow up like that. People get caught with the bad stuff; they don’t know they can have more. They think they don’t deserve more, or can’t do more,” Pridgen said.
“There’s too much else going on, bigger things to focus on in the moment. You can’t expect a young kid to worry about that stuff when they got to think about just safety walking home,” lifelong Tioga resident Tina Jackson said.
However, it was just that understanding of how bad things were that made Pridgen want to change her neighborhood. She said she wanted to make things better for the future. The success of Hope Park inspired her to continue her community work. Pridgen went on to create the Young Minds of the Future, which later became the United Minds of the Future (UMF).
“(UMF) will function as a tool that will unite companies that are already functioning or rising. Our first priority is to give back to the community proving that when we work together we create business longevity and financial success. We believe the community represents our nucleus which will help us grow and unite,” its mission statement reads.
UMF is just one of the many community organizations that work to better the area through youth projects. The H.E.R.O. Community Center, located at 3439 N. 17th St., has also created numerous youth programs.
H.E.R.O has reached out to the younger generation. It started with clothing drives for pregnant women and day care into after school programs and tutoring. H.E.R.O. has instilled a sense of community and respect in many its younger patrons, many of them have returned years later to help tutor others. A few have returned as adults to open businesses in the area, thanks to computer classes and training from the center. H.E.R.O. also has hosted youth events such as charity drives, clean-up days and even a step team.
“It’s really amazing how so many of the kids have come back to help out. We got so many people here who have been coming here for years and years, since they were kids. And now they’re grown and still coming to sit down and help the littler kids who used to be them,” said Dorris Phillips, the executive director of H.E.R.O.
There are many other Philadelphia youth organizations that operate in the Nicetown area, but very few are organizations found solely in the community. However, programs like the Philadelphia Youth Commission, Youth Advocacy Programs and Boys and Girls Club have chapters in surrounding areas. Most groups stress the importance of team and community-building activities and focus leadership and business opportunities in the area. Their goals are to better the area by starting with the younger generation.
“We are the future. We are excited for the future because we are the future,” Pridgen said.