For 46 years, East Mount Airy Neighbors has vigorously pursued improving conditions in Northwest Philadelphia.
Since its inception in 1966, this organization has encouraged community involvement through its longtime leaders and new members.
EMAN announced its new officers and board members, during a recent meeting held at the Mount Airy Presbyterian Church on East Mount Pleasant Avenue. The new officers will serve EMAN for the upcoming year while new board members will serve a three-year term.
Kent Reichet will be the new president, replacing Aisha Brooks-Lytle. In addition, Hollie Malamud-Price, executive director of Mount Airy Business Improvement District, and Rev. Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia will join EMAN’s board.
EMAN was created to unify the neighborhood’s economic and ethnic diversity. Racial discrimination, crime, drugs, zoning and education are issues that EMAN has addressed throughout its history.
Initially, EMAN was designed as an advocacy organization. Recently, it has shifted its focus from social justice issues making local issues a top priority.
David Bell, an EMAN board member, has seen a change of direction since he joined the organization in 1973.
“Today and for the last number of years, we’ve tended to get away from advocacy,” Bell said. “When I first joined and probably for about 20 years it was not a just a question of supporting this or that but really becoming advocates.”
Despite the shift of focus, EMAN remains vitally involved in addressing community concerns.
Dan Muroff, EMAN’s current board president, said he believes EMAN gives Mount Airy residents the voice the community needs.
“The community organizations were established because of neighborhood crises. There was a real, immediate need,” Muroff said. “You still need a community organization to be a roadblock against objectionable development like zoning. We can stand in the way of it.”
EMAN has also been effective in uniting residents and local leaders.
“Community organizations actually have a real function with city government,” Muroff said. “City Council persons look to us to assemble our neighbors when there are issues or concerns.”
Most members of EMAN intentionally moved to Mount Airy, seeking out a community with religious, ethnic, economic and sexual pluralism. Older members remember the days when being a part of EMAN meant protests and picket lines.
After years of trying to unify the neighborhood, addressing concerns of its diverse residents, EMAN now meets needs such as combating crime, stopping graffiti and seeking to influence City Council on zoning decisions.
While EMAN’s membership rates may be down and the organization is not as robust as it once was, EMAN remains a prominent force in the community. EMAN’s decades of mobilization have led to many close relationships between East Mount Airy residents and prominent Philadelphia leaders, including City Council members, Police Department brass and public school system officials.
Kent Reichert, the new EMAN president, said he believes the organization remains a great asset to the East Mount Airy community.
“EMAN has a great history of involvement and leadership on issues of diversity and fairness. That’s why a lot of us live here,” Reichert said. “In the past, it has had that great track record. There have been great successes so there are maybe fewer battles; maybe they are less clear, less obvious. We’re working on that tradition of involvement.”
Elvira Evans, 91, is EMAN’s oldest member. She was the first African-American student at the local Catholic school, Saint Catherine of Siena. She said she still remembers when public schools and even YMCA in Philadelphia were segregated. Today, Evans doesn’t see racism as such a large threat to the community as decades ago. She thinks there are good people and bad people everywhere and that the most important issue to focus on now is raising youth properly.
Despite Evans’ age, she remains an active EMAN board member. “I don’t know how not to be involved in anything. I am a retired schoolteacher therefore I am forever helping out somewhere and wherever there’s a need. That’s what keeps me going,” Evans said.
On the opposite end of the involvement spectrum, Tiffany Thurman attended her first EMAN meeting.
“I am looking forward to being part of an organization that’s really engaged in the community and listens to the needs of folks that live here and looks for ways to meet those needs,” Thurman said. “From what I hear, EMAN is definitely an organization that does that.”
Thurman became an EMAN fan after attending Mount Airy Day, an annual outdoor festival that EMAN and West Mount Airy Neighbors coordinates in May. The event is intended to unite neighbors, highlighting local businesses and artistic talents.
“It’s an opportunity for families to come together and to enjoy their community. It’s one of the reasons I love living here and why I’m looking forward to putting my hand to the plow and helping out more,” Thurman said.