“Give a man a fish feed him for a day, teach a man to fish feed him for a lifetime.”
This phrase is well known by many. The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has given the saying new life with the creation of “How We Fish,” a think tank held in areas across the city. Though the concept has been met with varying success in regards to turnout, their first foray into Fairhill last Thursday was disappointing.
The meeting took place at Front and Clearfield streets in a large room at the ECA Green Jobs Training Center. The Mural Arts Program chose the location in hopes of getting the perspective of Fairhill’s large Hispanic population. Disappointingly, only two people at the meeting were Hispanic.
Those who were part of the discussion tended to by white males working middle class jobs. One man owned his own catering company, another was an artist, and though the conversation flowed easily, the Hispanic perspective was perceptibly non-existent.
Topics such as entrepreneurship, workforce development and the future of the economy of the city were discussed frankly, making the event enlightening for all involved. Unfortunately, most of those involved were people who worked for Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
The one glimmer of community involvement in the program happened incidentally as Juan Rivas, a resident of Fairhill, happened to be working his shift as a maintenance worker in the ECA Jobs Center during the think tank. When the question “What does work do for you?” was posed, Rivas felt the need to speak up.
“In this kind of neighborhood where there is so much drug activity it’s a bigger deal when you have a job. I go home and get respect because I work and have a job. If you’re not hustling or doing drugs people respect you,” Rivas said.
According to Rivas, work also inspires younger kids to get jobs and he had high hopes for the effect of the finished mural. “A kid could see the mural and see that he could do something more with art if it’s his hobby. I think work inspires others to work.”
A lifelong resident of Fairhill, Rivas wasn’t given many opportunities for work. Through events such as these, however, he was introduced to much more and eventually receiving numerous certifications in the maintenance field. He is an example of what is possible when opportunities are presented to workers.
The purpose of these discussions was to inspire the artists “to create a dramatic new work of community-based public art that brings attention to people’s concerns, struggles, dreams and aspirations.”
“Many didn’t show up tonight even though we advertised and provided food. We tried to get people motivated with flyers and e-blasts on social media,” Portier said.
They haven’t given up though. Portier plans to partner with Congreso, a human services organization located in Fairhill. “It’s hard to get people to come to a place where they don’t usually come,” Portier said, disappointed at the turn out.
The unemployment rate it Fairhill is high at about 9.44 percent. Those who saw the advertisements may have felt uncomfortable discussing something they didn’t have or badly needed.
Portier pointed out that the meeting had pamphlets on how to get work and pamphlets on training at the ECA center that may have been helpful to those residents looking for work but did not feel comfortable calling the meeting a job fair because it would mislead prospective attendees.
Hopefully the meeting at Congreso doesn’t make them discount the answer given by Rivas, who during the meeting actually had to leave and perform some of his work duties. Feeling that he was not really part of the group, he only spoke up once and listened quietly until the meeting had finished.
If this Mural goes as planned, Philadelphia will have a constant reminder of how important having a job is from different perspectives. One hopefully depicting a strong Hispanic perspective.