Category Archives: Commentary

Fairmount Park Conservancy Breaks Ground on Centennial Commons Project

By Michael Burch


Last month there was a special ceremony held on Parkside Avenue in Fairmount Park. It was the groundbreaking program to formally recognize the start of construction on Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project. This venture is a major initiative of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.  This project is designed to create a more welcoming public space along Parkside Avenue from 41st and Parkside to Belmont Avenue.

If you are a regular reader of the Parkside Journal, then you may be somewhat familiar with the project for we have often written about its planned start. The new layout designed by Studio Bryan Hanes will include innovative play spaces for kids and young people, seating areas, a rain garden, and better access for Parkside residents to nearby cultural institutions. The groundbreaking took place on April 20th and is considered the physical start of the project. The expected completion time will be the Fall of 2017.

Centennial Commons is part of the national Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, which seeks to counter growing economic and social fragmentation in our cities by revitalizing and connecting parks, libraries, community centers and other public spaces. In 2015, Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Conservancy and local partners embarked on a three-year, $11 million pilot project of Reimagining the Civic Commons, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. The project has since added additional partners and expanded to four other cities. The work that has begun is only Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project, called “Parkside Neighborhood Edge.” This work will make it easier for pedestrians to cross Parkside Avenue, where they will be able to rest on new bench swings and benches or stroll among new ornamental plantings and trees – including 68 new shade trees and over 42 species of perennials, grasses, and shrubs covering 67,000 square feet.

“Centennial Commons is an outstanding example of what happens when our public agencies work together to bring innovative projects to our Parks and Recreation facilities,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to thank the leadership at Parks and Recreation, Water Department, Streets Department, and Commerce Department for sharing my vision for a cleaner, greener city for all Philadelphia residents. I also want to thank Fairmount Park Conservancy, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and William Penn Foundation for their leadership on the Centennial Commons project.”

After speaking to the larger audience gathered the Mayor found the time to stop and talk to us and answer a few questions. I asked him what his thoughts were on the Parkside community and how this new park will enhance the neighborhood.

“I see Parkside as a jewel that’s in need of a little bit of polishing” said Mayor Kenney. “The Parks and Rec people have done a good job maintaining but they we were in need of an infusion of outside resources. Every neighborhood in our city should have amenities like this, a place where our elderly, can come and relax and where our children can enjoy recreational activities.”

Mayor Kenney continued to elaborate on other related issues such as how funds from project rebuild will help fund Parks, libraries and recreation centers around the city. Many local residents were on hand for this event. This was a big deal in Parkside. Residents are pleased to see the improvements to the park but many are uncertain as to what it means to their futures. Updates to the park system in Parkside is wonderful but just across the street is the Parkside community. A community that has suffered through years of disinvestment. It remains to be seen how this new park will positively affect the people that live here. One resident asked me at the event “what does this mean for me, I don’t use the park and I still don’t have a laundromat around the corner.”

Joyce Smith from Viola Street Residents Association and Centennial Development Corporation had a speaking role at the ceremony and represents the community on many issues.

Joyce Smith knows the improvements are going to make the park more user friendly, but she also hopes this will lead to greater investment in the part of the community where the residents live and not lead to the removal of current residents. Longtime residents Joe Clark and Harmon Thurman also have fond memories of the Park and both are concerned about the community’s future. These longtime residents have been the stewards of this community and the park for many years. Let’s work together to bring about a bright future for Parkside.




President Trump, Harriet Tubman and the $20 by Michael Burch

Last year there was ANOTHER campaign going on that many of us missed. That campaign was the effort to get a woman on the face of the 20-dollar bill, championed by an organization called, “Women on 20s.” They succeeded in getting approval for Harriet Tubman to replace the image of Andrew Jackson, a known slave trader and architect of the “Trail of Tears” which forcibly removed native Americans from their ancestral lands, on the 20-dollar Bill. If all this comes to be, Tubman would be the first African American to be placed on American trading currency, a major accomplishment considering she was born a slave.

Her story is a testament of a true American hero who escaped from slavery in 1849 to come to Philadelphia. She returned to the south many times to lead other escaped slaves to freedom via the underground railroad. She was a freedom fighter and spy for the union army during the civil war. It is very appropriate that she replace the image of Andrew Jackson.

In the online voting petition, more than 600,000 votes were cast to choose what historically famous woman would replace Jackson on the $20. Harriett Tubman came out with the most votes followed by Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. The prospect of the new bills has been received mostly favorably by the public at large, they’ve even begun calling them by a nickname “Tubmans”. But the new bills are not even in circulation yet, and are not planned to be released until sometime after 2020. This late issuance of the Tubman bills brings into question if we will ever see them.

All of the preliminary work to bring Harriet Tubman to the 20-dollar bill was taken under the Obama administration and now in the era of Donald Trump, one has to wonder, will we ever see a Tubman?

Trump has expressed his adulation for Andrew Jackson in the past and he has a portrait of the seventh president in his oval office.

Last year when word was announced by then Secretary of the Treasury John Lew that Tubman would replace Jackson Trump remarked, “Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill,” He later went on to say “I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic, but I would love to leave Andrew Jackson or see if we can maybe come up with another denomination.”

Both Ben Carson and Donald Trump have suggested perhaps the 2-dollar bill would be more appropriate for Harriett Tubman. The 2-dollar bill was never a popular currency and its last production run was in 2013. With these kinds of comments coming from the new president, only time will tell if we will truly see Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill.


SPIRO’s: “Keeping The Faith In Parkside”

by Michael Burch

In order for a community to grow and survive, it needs several active components: committed residents, good schools and a thriving business sector. Parkside has seen its share of challenges dating back several decades even when businesses thrived in our area.

Talk to any of Parkside’s long time residents and they can tell you stories about the restaurants, markets and schools that have closed over the years due to the downturn in the economy, crime, the continued exodus of residents from the neighborhood, and the spread of drugs in our community.

However, one of the few businesses that has stayed in the neighborhood through the good times and the bad has been SPIRO’S BAR AND RESTAURANT, located at the corner of 40th Street and Girard Avenue in East Parkside. Spiro’s first opened its doors as a restaurant in Parkside in 1969, and it has been in business at that location ever since, changing as the neighborhood changed. Today, the owner and operator of Spiro’s is Jerry Fokas. It was his father who first opened the business at this location. Over the years, the small family business has expanded by adding a pizzeria in 1981 and a bar in 1987, thus becoming a fixture in East Parkside.

When talking to Mr. Fokas, it becomes clear that he has a deep pride in the neighborhood and the people who live here. He relates to many of his customers, seeing them almost as an extended family. Unlike many of the small corner store businesses that operate in East Parkside, Jerry Fokas hires residents from the community.

Like many of us, he has watched the neighborhood change and not always for the better. Walking outside of his restaurant onto Girard Avenue, Jerry can recall the names of fellow businesses that have long since closed and boarded their establishments. He can remember the former cleaners, the laundry mat, the movie theater, the pharmacy as well as the names of the owners of these past Parkside businesses, something I cannot do. In view of all the changes the neighborhood has experienced, one has to ask why he has stayed. When I asked him that question, he responded that “it was mostly due to my father”. It was his father’s dream to stay and take part in the renaissance that he (the father) believed would come to this neighborhood. Now years later, that dream has been handed down to his son, Jerry Fokas.

Mr. Fokas frankly admits that he has considered selling his business but due to his father’s influence he has remained in the neighborhood. Now after years of waiting, maybe that renaissance is finally beginning to happen. Mr. Fokas certainly thinks so. He has become a member of the newly formed Centennial Park District CDC chaired by Christopher Scott.

The new CDC is an organization dedicated to: “protect and implement the planning vision for East Parkside, partnering with residents to improve quality of life in the neighborhood”.

In talking to him about ways to speed change in the neighborhood, Mr. Fokas revealed his own unique idea. He has a theory that bringing Syrian refugees into the neighborhood may help to repopulate Parkside. These new immigrants could bring in new skills into the community, and the neighborhood has a history of immigrant populations as Parkside was first populated by German immigrants at the turn of the 19th century.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.38.46 PM
A look inside one of the new apartments above Spiro’s Restaurant.

To add to his investment in this neighborhood, Mr. Fokas has begun to rehabilitate the apartments located above his restaurant. He took me on a small tour of the property. There are nine one and two bedroom apartments, all with new appliances, cabinets and fixtures.

I was really impressed with the quality of these apartments. Clearly Spiro’s is much more than a local eatery. He and his family are truly vested in the community. To quote what he is fond of saying, “Parkside is one of the best places to live in the city. From here you have quick access to Center City, I-95, King of Prussia and much more”.

Stay tuned to what is happening on this corner. One of Mr. Fokas’ future plans is to build new housing on the parking lot next to his property! We wish him luck with this ambitious project.

Strong Parkside Support For Its “Please Touch Neighbor”

by Juanita Alexander

The @SixersDreamTeam greets season ticket holders at the Please Touch Museum (courtesy: Philadelphia 76ers)

Many of our readers probably know that the Please Touch Museum has had its share of difficulties since moving to the Parkside area in 2008. For a number of reasons, in September The Please Touch Museum filed for chapter 11. During this time the museum remains open and continues its good work of educating children through play. A ground swell of support for the Please Touch Museum has spread throughout the Parkside community amid reports of these financial challenges facing the highly regarded institution.

We at the Parkside Journal are certain that the Please Touch Museum will survive its financial struggles and emerge from bankruptcy proceedings. Please Touch has become an important part of the Parkside community. They offer many programs that directly help Parkside and the neighboringcommunities. Many of these programs are housed within their Community Learning Department. To most of us this means outreach programs. In these programs the museum goes beyond the walls of the building and out into the community. Some of the programs they offer are Youth and Family Programs. These programs seek to empower parents and caregivers and help to mentor youth as they grow into adults. The museum’s ACES program is one of these stellar programs and was featured in the Parkside Journal’s Summer 2015 edition. The School Readiness program is designed to support children and families who are transitioning into kindergarten. These are just a few of the many programs that West Philadelphia residents benefit from in having The Please Touch Museum as a neighbor.

Whatever the final outcome of all of the current negotiations, etc., the Parkside community stands firmly behind its Please Touch neighbor. The Parkside Journal urges all of its readers to support all future endeavors of the museum. This paper strongly feels that the current Please Touch Museum situation should be a “wake up” call for our community; Parkside can no longer take the cultural institutions in its midst for granted. This paper hopes that the varied Parkside community organizations will make a concerted effort to help support and sustain ALL of its valued cultural institutional neighbors.

Creative Voices: Words I Write *Mom*

Upon your shoulders first
Was when I viewed the world
You set my mind in motion
Towards the mountains that I hurl

As the years have come and gone
I look back in awe and think
How hard for you to raise a son
Bring him to manhood’s brink

Pain and Joy.
Life gives no guarantees
We come. We live. We go.
And some look back to see
What of the seeds that they did sow

In retrospect with all their might
There are still things one may miss
So let me take this moment here
To strongly tell you this

Of all your tears and sacrifice
There is no way to measure
But know inside my heart and soul
Your love is my greatest treasure

If ever a time should come when
The future forgets the past
I trust that fate will bend with pen
And these words I write will last


Public Forum: The case against privatizing the Postal Service

by Sharon Hale Jenkins

United_States_Postal_Service_TruckThe Republican dominated Congress is STILL trying to dismantle the United States Postal Service (USPS). Postmaster General, Patrick R. Donahue, is the second highest paid government employee after the President. Unfortunately Mr. Donahue, along with Republican leaders in Congress, is proposing a plan to install so-called ‘mail service’ counters in Staples.

Under this plan, Staple employees (counter cashiers) would act as ‘post office workers’. This latest proposal was introduced after the failed attempt to end Saturday mail delivery. This was just the latest in a series of attempts to privatize mail service, thus eliminating good paying government jobs.

If not yet installed in your neighborhood, look for street corners to have a collection of stacked tan mailboxes. These street corner mail boxes will replace door-to-door delivery AND the union workers who now deliver your mail. This is a blatant attempt to get rid of postal union workers who strongly
support the Democratic Party (with both money and manpower).

Once in place, NON-UNION workers (with lower wages) will deliver the mail to the stacked boxes and residents will have to come to the street corner to retrieve their mail. Think of it as having a Post Office box on the street corner.

For readers who are not aware, the almost decade long ‘attack’ against federal postal workers began in 2006, when Republican Representative Thomas Davis from the 3rd Congressional District of Va. sponsored U.S. House of Representatives Bill #6407 entitled Postal Accountability and Enhancement
Act (PAEA). The bill was introduced on December 7, 2006. It was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, 2006 and then by the U.S. Senate on December 9, 2006.

It was signed by then President George W. Bush on December 20, 2006. The swiftness with which this bill was passed and signed was the direct result of the Republican part losing control of both houses of Congress in the November, 2006 elections. The “lame duck” Republican Congress hurriedly passed
this bill before the “new” (Democratically controlled Congress) was officially sworn into office in January of 2007. The stated purpose of the bill was to reform the postal laws and improve the nation’s postal service.

The crux of the 2006 law is as follows: The USPS must make payments of $5.4 to 5.8 billion dollars into the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund EACH YEAR from 2007 to 2016 in order to prefund 75 years of estimated retiree health care costs. This requirement has forced the USPS to put aside billions of dollars to pay for the health benefits of employees it hasn’t even hired yet, something that NO OTHER GOVERNMENT OR PRIVATE CORPORATION is required to do.

In order to solve this problem, Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch from Massachusetts has introduced bipartisan legislation (with 193 sponsors) that would allow the USPS to spend more of its OWN money to pay down its deficits, including 6.9 billion in pension and other over payments that
may total as much as $25 to $50 billion dollars. These are Postal Office funds, NOT taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, Congressional Republican leaders have been supporting alternative legislation proposed by Republican Representative Darrell Issa from California.

His proposal would lead to WIDESPREAD LAYOFFS designed to greatly weaken the postal workers’ union, all under the guise of defusing the postal financial ‘crisis’ that Congress itself created in 2006. There are several key facts and truths about the USPS that are not well known that must be shared and made more widely known.

His proposal would lead to WIDESPREAD LAYOFFS designed to greatly weaken the postal workers’ union, all under the guise of defusing the postal financial ‘crisis’ that Congress itself created in 2006.

There are several key facts and truths about the USPS that are not well known that must be shared and made more widely known.

TRUTH # 1——-The USPS is NOT taxpayer funded. Therefore, package delivery fees, and first class mail are the revenue sources for the United States Postal Service. Most people, when asked, point to the increased use of electronic communications such as email as the reason for the financial crisis facing the USPS. Nothing could be further from the truth. As explained earlier in this article the deficits of the
USPS are directly due to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement ACT (PAEA) passed in 2006.

TRUTH # 2 ——When UPS and FedEx are unable to deliver mail in rural or outlying areas, the USPS is required by law to provide delivery to these areas, And without cost.

TRUTH #3——Only the USPS delivers mail and packages to West Africa. I wasted a great deal of energy before I finally sent a package to a Peace Corp worker who was teaching in a remote village. The package was delivered to the nearest city which was still miles away, but again, the USPS was the only
delivery system that served West Africa.

TRUTH #4—–Did you know that the USPS is the nation’s SECOND largest employer after Walmart? It is the largest employer of the DISABLED. The USPS has moved more people into the middle class (specifically AFRICAN AMERICANS) Than any other employer of VETERANS. God help us if large
quantities of medicine ever have to be delivered to areas were quarantined. What other organization has door-to door delivery system in place.

Hopefully, the information supplied in this article will inspire all concerned citizens to come out and VOTE in the crucial Congressional elections this coming November!

Public Forum: Is it Really Black History? Or, is it AMERICA’S HISTORY?

by Sharon Hale Jenkins

I came to know what is now known as Black History Month in my last year of high school in 1972. Its’ origins can be traced back to the pioneering work of Dr. Cater G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago. His efforts to gain more recognition for the contributions people of color had made to American history led to the establishment of Negro History Week during the 1920’s.

By the 1970’s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month. Since the mid-1970’s, every American president (Democratic and Republican) has issued proclamations endorsing the concept of Black History Month. While attending college in the 1970’s during the “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” period, I had many conflicting feelings about why the “Black” experience was (from my viewpoint) taught ‘separately’ from “American” history.

Let’s fast forward to today. Why are Black Americans continuing to accept the fact that their story (which is the very foundation of ALL of America’s stories), remains separate in the telling of this country’s history? In the future, the telling of America’s history should start with renaming Black History Month as AMERICA’S HISTORY: THE BLACK EXPERIENCE.


Because I am not a supporter of Black History Month, it is not unusual when I forget February is the month for Celebration. While TV viewing I am surprised and often impressed with the consistent number the African American actors being portrayed in Fortune 500 commercials. The Hallmark card commercial with the family cooking and eating together, having family card game time and the very touching family TV time when the wife hands her husband a card and they lean in to kiss when the children express their “ill.”

It is then I realize, this is all for Black History Month……..

There are the many movies with significant meaningful stories of African Americans being shown just in honor of Black History Month. Why not show these movies period?