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“We were a product of the streets, and now we are the solution,” said Louis Bryant, a member of The Brotherhood of Huntingdon Street.
Roughly five years ago a group of North Philadelphia men decided to get together and turn around the fate of their neighborhood. They formed The Brotherhood of Huntingdon Street, a non-profit organization. Although the men no longer live in the area and have dispersed throughout other regions of the city they haven’t forgotten their roots.
“This is where we came from, we used to be the drug dealers and gangsters on the corners,” said John Phillips, a younger member of the group. “We see the guys dealing on the corners, and we don’t forget where we came from, but at the same time we don’t agree with it anymore and put the safety of our children first.”
Every other Sunday morning the men meet up at the row home they purchased, to serve as their congregating spot, in their old neighborhood. Although there is no working electricity in the house, they have a few essentials they need in order to carry out their mission. The living room has a few couches, a whiteboard that lists their weekly agenda and some awards they have won, to keep spirits and motivation high despite recurring monetary struggles.
“Funding is an issue,” Phillips said. “We all have families, we all work and it ends up coming out of our own pockets. Although it is tough at times, it continues to be worth it.”
The Brotherhood’s mission is to help today’s North Philadelphia youth overcome their barriers whether it’s a fatherless home, drug abuse or many other issues inner-city residents might face. In 2006, the group met for the first time and voiced their concerns and visions for the neighborhood. The men who now sit in the North Philadelphia row home every other weekend were not always friends. Many of them were previously enemies from rival groups.
“We have members who were once enemies,” said Julian Abron, youngest member of the group. “One of the best things about this group is that at one time we would see each other and fight and now we work together as a team.”
Abron, previously incarcerated, has an affinity for learning that has brought him to his realization there is more outside of the crime that encompasses much of the community. He previously volunteered with another North Philadelphia group before attending one of the Brotherhood’s July health fairs and is now forever grateful for stumbling upon the opportunity to work with the other men in the group.
“When they walk, I walk,” Abron said.
He used to be a person that looked down on the working man and now he is trying harder than ever to instill his newfound importance of education and ethics in the kids.
“Most people put a monetary value on life. Life is free,” Abron said. “I gained a lot out of this experience and I thank everyone in this room for letting me in.”
Through their solid bond of brotherhood they effectively inspire the youth in North Philadelphia and navigate them outside of the area to see things they might not otherwise see. They try to do as many events as they can for the kids. Their most recent local event was a skating party. They fed a busload of kids and then took them to the skating rink to have some fun. They also sponsor longer trips away from home. They have taken kids to see shows in New York and to the Poconos for up to a week at a time.
There isn’t much parent involvement outside of the group’s members so getting permission can go one of two ways. One, the kids’ parents do not care and just let them go or two, the parents are unsettled about letting their kids go away knowing the pasts of some of the Brotherhood’s members.
“The parents know our pasts because they grew up with us,” Bryant said. “We talk with the concerned parents as much as possible and work to gain their trust in our goals.”
The group survives event to event through fundraising in between. They try to do as much for the kids as possible, and even short themselves from time to time to plan things for the youth. Each July they have a huge event where they shut down local streets and have a health fair and day of entertainment for the local and surrounding communities. They usually raise around $6,000 at their July event which gives them a nice jumpstart on the upcoming year’s events.
“The fight is to keep putting information out there, and more kids will get involved,” Phillips said.
They are also trying to work their way into North Philadelphia schools.
“They took extracurricular activities out of the schools and we’re trying to work them back in,” Phillips said. “When school is dismissed we try to be around and make sure our kids make it home safely.”
The group’s next fundraising event will be held at Applebee’s on Nov. 13, 10 a.m. to noon. They will be serving breakfast to the kids and local supporters that morning in hope of raising more money so they can start planning their next trip. They hope to set an example for not only the kids in North Philadelphia but each and every inner-city neighborhood.
“These are my old-heads,” Phillips said. “It’s an honor to be next to the former drug dealers of these streets and now be doing good with them. It’s a natural high.”
To find out more about the organization or inquire about upcoming events send an email to John Phillips, email@example.com.