Celebrate the Block to Build Community by Jenna Buehler

BMe Brothers show how to bring Joy & Unity

BMeheadejulykids

Young people anticipate the 6th annual “Stop the Violence” community block party. The block party brings free entertainment, live performances, food and fun to all kids for free. Photo credit: Roger Christmas

The summertime got a little brighter six years ago at the corner of 20th and Snyder streets in South Philly. On a street that media likes to associate with drugs and crime, Anton Moore, 21, launched “Unity in the Community” a block party that grew to help stop neighborhood violence and bring young people free entertainment.

This year, Moore has more than 4,000 RSVPs for the sixth annual “Unity in the Community” block party, the grand finale of a now seven-day Peace Week celebration. The kids, Moore says, finally have something they can look forward to and depend on every summer.

Black men and women across the country are bringing neighbors together to show what ‘community’ and working together looks like. Influencers like Moore are receiving local support and national recognition from the BMe Community, which sponsored the expansion of “Unity in the Community” when Anton became a BMe Leadership Award winner this year.

“Yes, people really call me the mayor,” Moore said. In an hour, he’ll speak at the Universal Care Charter Middle School graduation ceremony.

“I’m not the mayor,” he says. “I am just a community organizer trying to get things done.”

The popularity of block parties, according to Moore, is just one positive way for communities to engage and help stop the violence in the neighborhood. “People are crying out to stop the violence — in Newtown, in Boston, you name it — and we need events like this in every city, not just South Philly,” he said.

Out in Detroit, fellow BMe Award winners Shaka Senghor and Clement “Fame” Brown are bringing a similar message of peace to Joy Road, where more than 406 crimes were reported since the start of this year. They launched the “Joy Day” celebration as a way to both bring people together to enjoy themselves and announce the grand opening of “Fame Shop” on Joy Road.

“Even the troublemakers want to fall in line when they see young men building in their communities,” Brown said. “When you’re reaching out to people on their level with this kind of positive energy, it would become difficult to have any negative energy mess that up.”

In Aug 2011, their grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing strategy drew an estimated 500 people to the former City Bank parking lot. A mix of passion and out-of-pocket funding helped these men and their crew of organizers to deliver: free food to more than 200 families in the neighborhood, free on-site haircuts, and an opportunity to visit with local performers and athletes.

“It’s so important to be present in the community and show what working together looks like,” Senghor said. “Doing is the simplest way to get people to believe in you.”

Leaders who embrace the ‘spirit of doing’ are a valuable resource to community developers like Farah Jimenez, CEO of the Philadelphia People’s Emergency Center. She plans to launch a “Block Party in a Box” program to help identify leaders on each block and provide them with tools to host a summer block party of their own.

“When we first launched the ‘Block Party in a Box’ initiative, we found that it was just a natural way to identify the community leaders that the neighborhood trusts, ” Jimenez said.

She says they look for individuals who are willing to take it upon themselves to manage the planning and bureaucracy that often comes with organizing the event and closing down the street. “Block Party in a Box” is a physical box that offers all the tools an organizer would need to fulfill those tasks.

The box includes:

  • Coupons to a local beverage distributor

  • Gift certificate to the supermarket

  • Info on how to shut down the street

  • Info on foreclosure permits

  • A community newsletter

  • A calendar of events

  • 8th district service and resource brochure

  • Petition information for home repair

“For many neighbors, it’s the one time you’ll come together all year,” Jimenez said. “This is one way that neighbors can connect to share resource and service needs they have at a very local level.”

The key to hosting a block party, she says, is to find a lead organizer — someone both charismatic and enthusiastic — who knows how to bring people together to have a good time.

“At the core of social change is trust and relationships,” Jimenez said. “When someone brings people together to have fun, it also enables a community to understand what’s happening now. It gives them a chance to get engaged and involved.”

Community leaders in Philadelphia and Detroit offer this how-to guide to help you step up and engage the neighbors on your block. Leaders eager to take on the challenge are welcome to reach out to Brown, Jimenez, Moore, and Senghor.

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One thought on “Celebrate the Block to Build Community by Jenna Buehler

  1. Pingback: Making Community: Apostle Vanessa Ward Raises Up Her North Omaha Neighborhood and Builds Community | Leo Adam Biga's Blog

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