West Philadelphia: A Hidden Gem of Activism

Signage that adorns the outside of the LAvA Zone

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On Lancaster Avenue, stands a gated storefront with the acronym “LAVA” on a sign next to the door.  Many people pass by the storefront daily but few venture inside or even know that it is there.

Those people do not know what they are missing. Just a quick walk through the door reveals a large community space that has a lot to offer.

The Lancaster Avenue Autonomous Space has been around for about 12 years now,

“LAvA has a lot to offer the community,” said inter-faith Chaplain Mahdi El, who has been there for five years. “Just recently, we have really started to take off.”

Signage that adorns the outside of the LAvA Zone

Chaplain El explained that LAVA is not just one organization helping the community. It includes a number of national organizations in one building, with the same goal in mind – community service.

Housed inside the building are the local branches of the Human Rights Coalition, Act-Up, Street Medics and others.  Chaplain El runs the organization on the top floor, Young Broadcasters of America.

Youth from ages 9 to 19 with a desire to get into the field of broadcast participate in the program.  The group creates fully-produced TV shows that are broadcast locally.

“Not only do I run Young Broadcasters of America,” said Chaplain El, “but I am also kind of the tour guide for the entire building.”

There is a radio studio on the top floor, complete with production equipment and a soundproof room where performers record high-quality audio.

Chaplain El is strict about who gets to record in his studio.

 I don’t let just anyone record in the studio,” he said. “You have to have meaning to your music to record here. We are open to all music but I don’t want artists who are just singing about how much money or ice they have. I want people who are performing from the heart, people who lived it.”

The downstairs area is an open hall.  This area is used for benefits and fundraisers for the organizations in the building.  This area can also be rented out to anyone. Chaplain El knows it is a great place and can’t wait to move forward.

“With what we are doing now,” he said, “this place will be here for many years to come to help many generations.”





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