Deacon Taylor Williams frequently sits on the steps outside of his house on the 1300 block of Seltzer Street and converses with neighbors about the positive changes that he envisions God would bring to the embattled block.
Located in between Somerset Street and Silver Street, the 1300 block of Seltzer is a small side street in northern Fairhill that consists of several abandoned houses, vacant lots filled with litter and a high crime rate. Many residents of the block remember a time not too long ago when this block thrived and did not face the hardships that it does today. Under the leadership of Williams, residents of the once proud block have turned to religion in an effort to initiate change and to restore pride in the community.
Williams, who is a deacon at St. Mark’s Outreach Baptist Church, moved to the block seven years ago and became block captain shortly thereafter. During this time, Williams has seen first hand many of the issues that face the people of this area.
“A lot of the houses on the block have been abandoned for years and need to be fixed up,” Williams said. “We need to get one or two people in the community together and fix these lots up as well.”
Drugs and crime have also been an issue for residents of the block. Williams has seen several neighbors fall victim to crime over the years. This has led many residents of the block living in constant unease.
Rochelle Lewis often walks down this block during her commute from work. She can recount several times where she thought she would be a victim of crime since she is an elderly woman.
“You’ve got a block right here that’s very dangerous,” said Lewis. “When you go out you have to say little and observe more.”
Two years ago, Williams decided to form a prayer group for residents of the block. Every other Saturday morning a few residents gather in a prayer circle in the street and pray for the betterment of the block and the community.
“We pray that God can not only have an impact on this block but that it spreads throughout the entire neighborhood,” Williams said. “It’s really important because you don’t always have to start in the sanctuary but you can start in streets.”
Tonya Taylor has lived on the block for five years recognizes the importance of the prayer gatherings for the residents.
“It’s a good thing because you don’t see a lot of people doing things like that,” she said. “I try to make it out every time it goes on.”
Taylor was a seasonal employee at Citizen Bank Ballpark and is currently unemployed. She has been very concerned about the state of the block and often reaches out to City Council members in seek of improvements.
“They need to fix these abandoned houses up and give them to the homeless,” she said. “It would also be nice if we could get the sidewalks painted, but nobody don’t want to seem help anymore.”
Toni Wilson was raised on the block and currently resides there with her husband, Minister David Wilson. Wilson and her mother moved to the block in the 1950s when the majority of the residents were white. They were only the second African-American family to move on to the block. When Wilson’s mother died, the house was passed down to her.
“Back then it used to be people in every house on the block,” she said. “You couldn’t find an abandoned house on the street. ”
Nearly six decades later the block that Toni Wilson grew up on is barely recognizable. Many of the residents who lived on the block during her youth no longer reside there.
“Most of these abandoned houses were left to the children of the older folks who used to live here,” Wilson said. “But a lot of the older people passed away and their children aren’t taking care of the houses.”
Johanna Hyman also grew up on the block as a child. Her mother passed her house down to her and Hyman now rents out the four-bedroom house that lies next to the vacant lot. Hyman has fond memories of the block and remembers when all of the residents were a tight-knit community.
“I remember when it was a like a neighborhood block,” said Hyman. “It was like a family back then, but things are different now.”
Hyman said she plans on turning the vacant lot into a garden for the kids of the block so that it isn’t used for drug trafficking. Even though Hyman no longer lives on the block she has become frustrated with the lack of reformation.
“The foundation for most of these houses are good but the city don’t want to refurbish them,” said Hyman. “They’ll rather leave them abandoned.”
Despite growing displeasure with city officials about the state of block, most residents have stayed grounded in their religion in hopes that God can bring change.
“We got one thing on our side though and that’s God,” said Taylor.