NW Philly is full of potential for all of us, if we open up to it.
This first column of 2022, I want to start off on a positive note. Because I firmly believe that people like you and me hold the key to the change that’s so urgently needed. We have everything we need to disrupt the current narrative, and take charge.
Wanda Walker is a Germantown neighbor and business owner, and a longtime community leader/activist for education, vocational training, and financial literacy. She also happens to be a dear friend I’ve known since we were at Lincoln University together. We sat down for a frank talk about what’s going on in the streets, and to brainstorm better options that are available right now for anyone who’s ready to apply themselves.
Ed Note: this interview has been edited for clarity from the videos presented in this post.
DR WOODSON: Let’s talk about all the new construction in NW Philly – the big apartment buildings, bringing “density” to residential areas.
Yes! We definitely know that these new buildings will have one bedrooms starting at $1200/month, easy. So that can almost guarantee you, their target audience is not going to be someone that looks like me or you.
And that’s beautiful, still. I would love to see a Germantown melting pot, where we’re all different backgrounds and we all get along. But a lot of these new people don’t care to know who we are and what kind of community we’re trying to build. And this matters in elections, where one, two big apartment buildings can change the whole political dynamic, potentially flip a whole ward or district. Where does that leave us?
I would like to see Germantown change for the better. And I would like to see anybody and everybody that’s positive and hardworking, you know, all the big hearts and beautiful spirits, I want to see a community that makes room for this energy to continue. New people don’t need to look like us, Lorenzo, they just need to love us as neighbors. And believe that many of us have a lot to contribute, we just need some help – some resources, some support – to really shine along with the revitalization developers are bringing.
“Germantown gorgeous” should be a thing!
What do we do about all the violence, Wanda?
Focus on the positive. I want to see streets lit up and tree-lined! Wayne, Chelten, Germantown avenues. Every storefront window lit and dressed, with an awning or flower pots or some sort of curb appeal. A mix of businesses, services, and – here’s an idea – retail collaborations.
I took the best business-building workshops at the Community College – they have a free program called Power Up that was just so excellent. We had five cohorts, three were bakers, but they each baked different things. None of them had the time or the money for a storefront, but together it made sense to share space, plus it instantly expanded everyone’s customer base.
The key is finding complementary businesses, but there are so many unique and wonderful small businesses here in this part of Philly. We need a collaborative plan to give these entrepreneurs their best shot at success.
Wow. Did you hear about Curtis Jones’s shipping container mall?
I sure did! Can’t wait to see it. I hope they go out of their way to find real “Philly” small businesses, you know, unique stuff that you can’t get anywhere else. I’d rather not see the same old vendors, I think the more new energy the better.
Germantown could have more say in projects like this if we had a political action committee. Businesses need to band together to create targeted voting blocks, and pool our resources toward promoting candidates who will represent our best interests.
Agree! But we can do a lot individually too. I would like to seriously ask some mothers — Why not take the money you’re spending on nails, and invest it in your child? You have mothers out here buying guns for their kids – guns! And pay for big funerals. No, flip that around. Spend your money on him now! Get him classes, send him to camp, help him find his way.
Kids love this stuff, too. Droning, for instance, is so popular. A 4 to 6 week class is a couple hundred dollars, they can do it online, take a test, and get a certificate to fly drones professionally. I know one kid who works with a realtor, he makes $100 every time they call him just to take some pics from the sky. Builders use them too.
THAT’s the type of thing that can rival drug dealing. Nobody really wants to hang out on the corner, you always gotta be with one eye open, watching your back. So now here’s an opportunity to be an expert at something – to have a pilot license, and be making good money. THIS is how you save young people from the violence that’s overtaking communities. By offering better choices.
Cost is always a factor. And that’s one thing we always have to remember. Anything that is progressive has costs. And there’s been a marked divestment in inner-city communities lately. It’s almost like they want the property values to bottom out, so they can snap them up cheap and make as much profit as possible off the new luxury apartments they’re building.
Yes but even so, people wouldn’t be coming here to get rich if we didn’t have value, if there wasn’t money here to be made. Certainly some of development money should be getting through to the people somehow, they need to invest their profits into building strong, safe communities.
Take the Women’s Y, maybe there’s not a qualified minority developer who’s available and who wants to take on that job. That’s still no reason to look outside the community. Instead of one developer, we could have two or three working together. The City could fund training for builders, plumbers, electricians… Get people certified and working!
This isn’t a mystery, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see all kinds of ways neighbors can contribute to and benefit from all the development going up. City wants to help stem violence and poverty, there you go. But they’re not hiring us, or training us or helping us get financed. All the money in the community is going one way: out!
And they keep trying to say they’re helping us. You’re not helping me. If you want to help, you need to help me right now. Not five years or three years when everything’s all filled, we need help right now. Why can’t we have these jobs? Why aren’t we teaching the kids, and training our young adults?
Where are our publicly-funded trade schools? Germantown High used have a full auto shop and commercial kitchen for students – we don’t need to start there, though, lots of trades don’t require special outfits. Not to bring up droning again, but there are lots of new technology trades that are in huge demand: coding, design, security… gaming. It’s not like you need a special school to teach this stuff, either, just a teacher and some computers.
All these mixed-use buildings going up, they could use the ground-floor commercial as classrooms, and then put mixed-income housing on top.
Right? Who wants a ground floor apartment on a busy street anyway? Make that for services and small business. And a green roof for community space, maybe a level of parking. We need to think positively, to create something special together. Instead of being so afraid, and so easily run off our own blocks.
Look, people want to be involved. And when people start feeling a stake in community projects, the whole playbook can change between neighbors and developers. When people step up and take ownership of their neighborhood. Both the good and the bad. We need be honest with each other about city leaders and organizations supporting the investors who so very clearly do not want to help us who occupy the real estate they’re transforming with the help of public funds/tax breaks.
No one’s asking for a hand-out, just access to opportunities.
You know what we need? A program like a Jumpstart Germantown but for businesses and commercial property.
Yes, that includes vocational training and whatever else is necessary to level the playing field for community members who are ready to work hard, they just need someone to invest in them, and give them the opportunity to thrive here. Now, who’s gonna call Ken Weinstein?
JUMPSTART YOURSELF! Click on source links in this article for more information on career-building resources and enterprising opportunities.
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BONUS VIDEO: Wanda’s YWCA Meeting recap (plus transcription)
Thank you so very much for this opportunity to speak my truth. A lot is going on. And if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to other people.
Were you at the YWCA meeting?
I sure was, I was the one that started the problems!
Oh, my Gosh! So you gotta tell me about it. And let’s go from there ok?
I will. And then I also spoke with someone after the meeting, the young developer up front. Because I wanted to apologize, I got up because I thought the lady was trying to hide the truth. And she was being disrespectful.
And I’m not a fan of Cindy. But the fact that she is the council woman, she deserves a certain level of respect. And the lady was trying to talk over her not let her speak. And the stuff she was saying none of us had heard before. And unfortunately, Cindy played the race card, pretty much this is what she did.
Because she told the stuff that we didn’t know about that was happening to this Black developer that was sort of helping to keep him down. But she waited for that meeting to say something. And if it is truly your sentiment, then what have you been doing since 2012? You know? And if you really feel this way, then how can we have so few minority developers in the Germantown or the Eighth District Ward or whatever you want to call it?
So afterwards, I realized that that was her playing a race board. And the lady who was so quick to try to keep quiet, she didn’t realize that the room was filled with stakeholders, business owners and contractors that were minority and Black. So when Cindy said what she said, even though it was like, “Okay, that’s after you let the horse out of the gate,” it still hit a nerve for everybody. So for her to try to keep Cindy quiet, that’s why I was like, “Listen, I want to hear what she has to say.”
I want to hear what everybody has to say. And when she kept trying to talk over her, I was like “You’re being disrespectful” And the next minute, you know, everybody was up on their feet and you know, disagreeing and it was not cool. So I’ve reached out to apologize to several people because I thought to myself, Oh my God, if something had happened that that night, I was still the catalyst. And I don’t like that. I believe in standing up. But I don’t want to be the person that gets people so riled up that the end up getting into an argument. And it was getting ready to come to blows.
It was really — someone has a tape on it, because they had someone in the back room videoing. So yeah, catch that. Find that and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating. And I felt bad about it. I wanted her to be heard. I didn’t want people to get up and start fighting.
Who was talking over Cindy?
The lady in the pink shirt, the one that was speaking before her. They’re gonna have to have another meeting, I spoke to one of the members –she had said were only eight weeks old. Well, you’re eight weeks old, you just got here. Cindy’s been here for eight years. You call a meeting, try to keep her out of it. That to me says you’re hiding something or trying to manipulate something.
Cindy doing what she did, like I said: You’ve been in an office since 2012. And now you say something this profound? And if this was really your sentiments, we would see it in our community, you know, because she does have the power to control this. So for us not seeing it, you know, and after talking to the young developer, he was like, that’s not really her. She did that for a reason. And he sort of broke it down.
And being that I’m smart enough to understand basic stuff. I was like, You know what? She played the race card. He said, That’s exactly what she did, you know, because the rest of us have never gotten that type of support, or anything from her. But I think that the way he explained it to me is, she’s mad that they’re trying to do something without her input. And it’s like, you can’t do anything pertaining to that. Whether it’s get another developer or anything else, if you’re not coming through me.
Isn’t that how she created the environment?
Yes. And that all those politicians do it. That’s why they’re trying to take away councilmanic prerogative. Because you city council people feeling like they’re the king or the queen. And if you want to do something, you have to come through me, no matter what,
You know, people in Germantown didn’t buy her. People who really bought her now are saying, “We’re done with you, we’re gonna go ahead and move forward with something else. And she’s like, well, you know, my hands are kind of tied. But if she had been really involved in this, like she should have, and not a sellout, she wouldn’t have to come and play the race card. Because with the race card, she’s trying to keep her being a candidate. But see, Black folks should not even be playing the race card anymore with that. This is not race politics. This is about really building up Germantown and giving people a fair exchange.
Equity! If you can work for it, you can have it. No favors, not nepotism, none of that.
People are fed up with that.
Most definitely. You know, Ken Weinstein was in the room. And I heard he got up and left the minute, they started the commotion.
He’s a player in it!
Oh, most definitely. I saw his group of people that are always advocating for him. He has a fan club that comes out.
I remember 10 years ago, when he wasn’t even a big player. He was just part of Chestnut Hill Business Association. And then all of a sudden, he’s with his wife downtown, and they was doing their little shenanigans, talking to people having nice big dinners and making plans. And he got all the stuff off the plate.
Well, it’s connections.
He used Cindy Blass, and now they’re kicking her to the curb.
(laughs) You know, I don’t want to use the word “use” but I definitely hear what you’re saying. Maybe at one time he paid her but now he doesn’t need to? You never know.
Oh I know.
Well I didn’t hear it from his lips. A lot of Black politicians are okay with doing certain things and not realizing that now once the process is over, they’re no longer needed.