Hundreds of Philadelphians gathered across Point Breeze Avenue last weekend for an afternoon of community celebration.
Running the gamut from rap to storybooks, local residents of all ages and interests soaked up the final few weeks of summer through Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s 11th “Legends of Hip Hop and R&B” Community Appreciation Day.
Since 2009, the annual event, which Johnson kicked off as a state representative, takes over a nearly five-block stretch of Point Breeze Avenue. The lineup of festivities features performances from big-name artists, recognitions of local difference-makers, distribution of various resources and, of course, tons of family-fun activities.
“I always believe charity starts at home,” Johnson said. “I was born and raised in Point Breeze. Point Breeze is the neighborhood that helped me become the person who I am today. And so, this is home…We have people from all across the city to participate. But, this is the nucleus of my district.”
More than a decade ago, Johnson imagined the massive block party as an afternoon of amusement fused with accessibility and awareness.
Though children of all ages frolicked around the streets, jumping on moon bounces and enjoying pony rides, the essence of the day, Johnson says, includes distributing health, educational, employment and other resources to neighbors.
“So, (attendees) know where to go and where to get these resources,” said event volunteer Veronica Mapp. “Once you get it here, you’ll know exactly where to go. They point you in the right direction. Give you the right people to speak to.”
The scope of vendors ranged from PECO Energy Company and the city Department of Streets to the Free Library of Philadelphia and Bethanna.
“It was about focusing on bringing the community together and although we have free food and a kids zone and entertainment, we really focus on the resources to help people improve the quality of their lives,” Johnson said.
During the event, South Philadelphian youths were honored for their charitable, artistic and entrepreneurial accomplishments.
These individuals included Trey Brown, David Hopkins, Randy Robinson, Gene Caldwell, Anthony Fitzhugh, Kevin Miller, Keilana Mungin, Yvonne Glasgow, Williesha Robinson Bethel and 18 members of the Youth Commission for Change – a gun violence prevention program.
Johnson stressed the importance of highlighting young men and women who set positive examples throughout the South Philadelphia community. The awards speak to the event’s other cornerstone – keeping children out of trouble.
“Now, there’s nothing but violence,” said event attendee Carmen Brown, who has lived in South Philadelphia for 57 years. “It’s getting worse. It’s not getting any better. We’re killing each other. (This even) keeps children off the streets. (Kenyatta) is trying to make our children better to get where he got.”
Other individuals echoed Brown’s thoughts, stressing the need for non-violence movements to extend beyond the day’s activities.
“This keeps the community together to stop the violence,” said event attendee Esther Reynolds. “(The youth) are getting out here and communicating with other kids and learning about life and how their community is and making it better for adults and kids.”
Continuing efforts to benefit youth welfare, more than 500 bookbags, each filled with school supplies, were distributed to students of all ages midway through the event.
Johnson says the donations were helped collected by the Goldenberg Group.
The distributions were followed by a lineup of performances, encompassing almost a dozen old-school and emerging hip-hop and R&B artists, including The Alumni featuring Dana Dane, Monie Love, Special Ed and Nice & Smooth as well as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
“We make sure we have performances for all generations of constituents who live inside the community – from hip hop to oldies.,” Johnson said. “Last year, we had a rock band. We try to make sure, most importantly, we think about the diversity inside of the community as a way of putting our lineup together.”
Welcoming individuals of all ages, races and religions, that diversity is yet another foundation of the festival.
“This is a community. It’s just like a family,” Mapp said. “South Philly is a whole family. It’s a large community and everybody loves each other in this community, so we reach out to everybody and anybody. Any community is allowed to come in and join in this event.”