West Oak Lane: Northwest Neighbors Against Graffiti

Vernon Smith held up a shirt from NAG.

Northwest Neighbors Against Graffiti is a nonprofit organization focused on removing graffiti in and around the neighborhood with the help of community members.

Vernon Smith, legislative assistant for Rep. Dwight Evans and active NAG member, held up a shirt from the organization.

NAG, located at 7174 Ogontz Ave. in State Rep. Dwight Evans’ office, was formed in July 1994 after a large committee meeting was held to discuss anti-graffiti tactics.

Carlton Williams has been Evans’ legislative assistant for the past 17 years and an active NAG member since its start.

“[Evans] saw the need to start the organization,” Williams said. “One of the main issues that we deal with…is community cleanup so that falls under the graffiti aspect of it, so he gave us the assignment to come up with this organization to be proactive as well as reactive as far as removing graffiti.”

After the first large committee meeting, seven smaller committees were formed in an effort to crack down on graffiti writers: cleanup, surveillance, business inspection, business visitation, legislation, court appearance and youth. These committees have various roles but are all equally important to the success of NAG.

Members of NAG have said its success in removing graffiti around the community is because of a hands-on approach.

“We used to just do an overall neighborhood walk-through and tour and we were able to document the graffiti locations and use city resources to be able to obtain the materials to remove a lot of the graffiti through the area,” Williams said.

In a little more than a year, NAG made progress in fighting the war on graffiti.

Vernon Smith, a legislative assistant for Evans and active NAG member, contributed the organization’s success to its consistency. “Since this program started, it’s been consistent. When we see graffiti we remove it, graffiti comes back we remove it and eventually that problem goes away.”

NAG continues to affect the local community by working and building relationships with community members and neighbors to effectively remove graffiti from around the neighborhood. There have been many instances when community members have contacted NAG in order to have graffiti removed from their area.

Bruce Burton, owner of The Original Pretty Boyz Barber Shop, talked about NAG and how it personally helped his business.

Bruce Burton, owner of The Original Pretty Boyz Barber Shop, did just that. He planned on hosting a hair show at his local barbershop, but there was graffiti on the building across the street from his shop.

“I didn’t know anything about this organization called NAG,” Burton said, “but I called state representative’s office, Dwight Evans, and spoke with Vernon to remove the graffiti because it was unsightly.”

NAG’s promptness to handling graffiti removal has helped enforce the organization’s zero-tolerance stance.

“So the next day all I know is graffiti was off the wall and I was able to go ahead and have my hair show and it went along successfully,” Burton said.

Although most graffiti writers explain that their work is artistic, many local community members and business owners disagree.

“They are basically tearing down the community by putting the graffiti on the walls,” Burton said.

NAG members said if the community doesn’t fight against graffiti, the city’s appearance will diminish, causing people to think that it’s acceptable to commit other serious crimes because the city is neglected.

“I have a higher echelon of clientele that comes into this area,” Burton said, “and I think that it would turn them away if they saw the graffiti on the walls, wondering if it’s because there are gangs in the area or what the graffiti is representing. So I think that NAG is doing an excellent job by removing the graffiti and I definitely appreciate them being in the area and doing what they do for the community.”

NAG was one of the 24 community-based organizations in Philadelphia that received a $2,500 grant from the city’s managing director’s office. The organization uses grants and funds to obtain more materials to further their cause.

NAG is dedicated to getting rid of graffiti and improve the appearance of the local community.

The problem of graffiti will not go away quickly. NAG defined success as areas that stay clean for longer periods of time, or when areas do have graffiti on them, the graffiti or tag is not as large.

“When we’re just as committed to removing the graffiti as these graffiti writers, it goes away,” Smith said. “With the neighbors being involved and with the kids being involved, it goes away.”

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