Humans of North Philly

Everyone has a place they call home.

Gweru, Zimbabwe. Hong Kong, China. North Philadelphia, United States.

We wanted to learn about the North Philly that is home to over 240,000 people. So we asked around. And found some pretty cool things. An unnoticed history, a legend of jazz, and a poppin' donut shop on the old "Golden Strip."

Take a scroll through North Philly. And if you can, spread the word.

What's the best part of North Philly?

"The people."

"The support."

"The children."

"The prayer and faith."

What are the biggest challenges?

Mural in Sharswood, North Philadelphia

"Every day is a challenge."

Over the past few decades, North Philadelphia has suffered through an increase in crime and violence. We asked the long-term residents when it all began to change. Every one of them had the same memory...

"It began to change right after the Race Riots of '64."

The Philadelphia Race Riots of 1964 occurred from August 28-30. In three short days, 341 people were injured, 774 arrested, and 225 stores destroyed.

Tensions between the black neighborhood and Philadelphia policemen had been escalating for months. When a black man and woman were arrested following an encounter with police after the woman's car stalled at a traffic light, rumors spread that police had beaten a pregnant black woman to death.

The following three days were chaos and tragedy on what was then Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Ave). Many razed businesses never re-opened, and North Philadelphia quickly fell into a depression.

Residents tell us the neighborhood has yet to recover over 50 years later.

They reminded us of the vibrancy and culture that once swung easily through the air...

The Golden Strip

"My best memory of my time in North Philly... the camaraderie with the musicians." - Don Gardner

Mr. Donald Gardner, a singer, songwriter, and drummer who performed in the bustling clubs of North Philly throughout the '50s and '60s was a part of what was known as the "Jazz Era" in North Philadelphia. Gardner was one of many nationally famous musicians from Philly at the time, with his single "Need Your Lovin'" rising to number 4 on the R&B Billboard Charts in 1962.

"There was the Musical Lounge, the Pearl Theater, the Uptown Theater, the Pyramid Club, the Clef Club..." -Don Gardner
What was then known as Columbia Ave (now Cecil B. Moore Ave.) was home to over 20 jazz venues.
Cullen C. Knight

"The City of Philadelphia and the Cleff Club recognize me as a living legend, a legend of jazz"

We also got the amazing opportunity to speak with former North Philadelphian and internationally recognized jazz musician Mr. Cullen C. Knight. Knight too performed on the Golden Strip of jazz on Columbia Ave. soaring higher to premier venues such as Broadway and Carnegie Hall alongside fellow legends such as Grover Washington Jr. and Stevie Wonder.

When asked about what it was like as a Philadelphia jazz musician, Knight remarked...

"It was a thing to be doing. Philly was like a mecca, a capital for jazz."

When we spoke to Don Gardner, his final statements to us left a mark...

"Back then, everyone would help you. Your neighbors were your neighbors, and whether you felt like it or not, you helped each other out. Today... today everyone thinks about themselves. We need to let go of ourselves and go back to helping the neighbor."

We thank him greatly for helping us out and encourage you to listen to the soul and love that is his music. We also dearly thank Mr. Cullen Knight for taking the time to speak with us amidst his busy days and encourage you to explore his legendary talent and new book Once You Fall in Love (The Love of Life).

North Philadelphia's Robert Vaux Junior High School chess team returning home victorious from San Clemente, California, May 19, 1977 (background photo)

The school had an exceptionally brilliant chess team that competed successfully both nationally and internationally in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Returning home proud champions from Yugoslav capital, May 26, 1979
Today, the once vibrant Robert Vaux Junior High School is a vacant building, closed in 2013. It will reopen in 2017 as a part of the Big Picture Philadelphia movement.

Today, we asked North Philadelphians their best memories of the neighborhood

"The day I saw Martin Luther King Jr. march through the streets." -Resident
"When John F. Kennedy came through town" -Weekly visitor at the Senior Rec Center
"The day I saw President Barack Obama give a speech in the neighborhood" -North Philadelphian

While many of those we talked to reflected on the golden days of the past, some shared their unease with the present and hope for the future.

"I've been here 85 years. No one is going to make me move. If my taxes go up, well, I guess I'll just have to manage. But what they're doing with all this rebuilding... it's hard, but it's good. I think it might help." - North Philadelphian met on street corner
23rd and Nicholas Street, North Philadelphia

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