Category Archives: Commentary

Spotlight On Local Author With Parkside Roots

by Juanita Alexander

Saundra Terrell

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saundra Terrell, an engaging and delightful author who grew up and was nurtured in our very own Parkside community. I was spellbound as I listened to her discuss her childhood experiences and her latest book, WATER THICKER THAN BLOOD.

She explained that the underlying ‘theme’ of the book is that “you can have people come into your life in a meaningful way and that they can have more impact on your life and often be more supportive than your blood relatives”. Ms. Terrell’s book is a work of fiction but she feels it is filled with characters that everyday people can relate to based on their own life experiences. Characters like Johnny Mae who suffers from unrequited love and Pearl who must deal with feelings of inadequacy because she feels she is too dark and too fat compared to her prettier’ sister, are people most of us can empathize with.

Saundra Terrell moved with her family to Parkside (near 42nd and Viola Sts.) when she was about six

years old during the 1950’s. She attended Leidy Elementary School (the ‘original’ Leidy before the larger school was built). She remembers a beautiful neighborhood with grocery stores, pharmacies, and produce shops lining Parkside Ave. and nearby streets. During the 1950’s, the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish and Leidy was racially mixed. She believes that Parkside began to experience a decline when people moved into the community who were not homeowners and who did not have a vested interest in maintaining their properties. It is her belief that the decline of the neighborhood accelerated when a nearby restaurant was converted to a bar, leading to fights and other undesirable activities.

Despite the challenges facing Parkside today, Ms. Terrell remains deeply connected with her childhood community. Her sister still lives on Viola Street, right next to the original family home that her son is renovating. In addition, members of her late husband’s family still live on Viola Street.

Although her first book, NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MY OWN, was published fairly recently in 2009, Ms. Terrell’s interest in books and writing dates back to her childhood years. In the fourth grade, the teacher would allow her to put on plays after the recess break. All of her classmates eagerly looked forward to her plays and wanted to be characters in her ‘productions’. When other children were outside playing, she stayed indoors and read Nancy Drew romance novels. She especially related to the character of Allison in the sensational 1950’s best seller Peyton Place because Allison wanted to go to New York and become a writer. Ironically, despite her obvious talent, she had low self-esteem as a child because she was a poor speller. However, she compensated for her difficulties with spelling by using words she found in books she read. Later on, in life, she found that other people identified with her early feelings of inadequacy.

Ms. Terrell’s creativity is not limited to writing. From the age of six she enjoyed just taking needle and thread and creating. After her husband’s death in 1999, she opened a business on City Line Avenue in the former Iroquois. There she sold crafts, jewelry, and dolls representing African-American family figures. In the near future, she intends to resume creating crafts, especially dolls and pictures made from cloth materials. All of her creations (crafts, books,etc.) are marketed under her business name, SAUNDRA TERRELL ORIGINALS.

As we concluded the interview, Ms. Terrell expressed her passion for books and writing by stating, “It’s almost like the books write themselves and the characters and stories just come to me. I cannot imagine a world without books. I hope people get the same feeling when they read my books”. After talking with her I was so moved that I went to my local Barnes and Noble store and ordered a copy of WATER THICKER THAN BLOOD. I am encouraging all of our Journal readers to do the same.

Ms. Terrell has scheduled two upcoming book signings (September 23rd at the African-American History Museum and November 6th at Thomas Jefferson Hospital). Please try to attend these events and be sure to go to her website to learn more about this multi-talented lady who makes Parkside proud!!



Latest Happenings from The Centennial Parkside CDC

Letitia House is the new home of Centennial Parkside CDC,. For
more information go to

by Chris Sphar

This summer has been a busy one for the Centennial Parkside CDC. We have officially opened our office at the Letitia House at 3479 West Girard Avenue and are actively working with residents to plan how we will use the acre of outdoor community space surrounding the office building. Quentin Drew, Tracy Reed, and Johnnie McFadden, our Clean and Green Team, have been hard at work cleaning the streets and vacant lots of East Parkside in an effort to improve the quality of life of local residents.

In addition our summer programming, the Parkside Fresh Food Fest, has proven to be a great success. Close to 20 East Parkside residents have subscribed to receive a bag of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy products from the Reading Terminal Market on six occasions over the summer.

In addition to receiving these healthy food shares at an affordable rate, visitors to the Parkside Fresh Food Fest experienced a cooking demonstration from a great local chef, Tess Connors.

Parkside Fresh Food Fest attendees could also access resources on Indego BikeShare, local recycling campaigns, and home health services while children read books donated by the Philadelphia Free Library. If that wasn’t enough, the Parkside Fresh Food Fest had a rocking performance by local musicians, CityLove on August 10 and anticipate a repeat performance at our closing on September 21.

This has been a great summer for the Centennial Parkside CDC and it is only a preview of what is to come as we grow to be an important resource in the East Parkside Community.


A College Sendoff, Symbol Of A Mother’s Love

By Jim Brown


The photo above shows McKenzi Custus, surrounded by family and
friends at her sendoff to college party!

“Empowering young people is one of the greatest  assets a parent, family or a community can do to have a positive return on life’s investment as they grow.” – Jim Brown, 8/28/17

As you know September is the month when many kids and young people look forward to starting their next school year whether it’s kindergarten, middle school, high school or college. Some area students start this adventure with not much more fan fare than getting new school supplies. Others however, will have the full support of their parents.

Recently (8/12/17), I covered and attended a college sendoff of a young lady from West Philadelphia named McKenzi Custus who was accepted to Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, a hundred and fifty-three miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mckenzi’s mother, Crystal Custus, demonstrated her love and support for her daughter with a special sendoff that had the theme: The World is Yours.

Watching a tireless mother be inspired by her daughter’s accomplishments, created moments that would give any first year college student the motivation to do well. Crystal and her friends transformed a former art studio in Germantown into an elegant and classy venue where they created an event to remember for her daughter, family, and friends. Over 65 people were in attendance at this dinner celebration.

“I wanted to give her a day full of love,” explains Crystal Custus. “I wanted her to feel that foundation that one last day that we’d come together in honor of her before she left to go Susquehanna University this fall.”

“One of the key things to carry her through school, is knowing that she has people that she can count on,” adds Custus. “People who recognize her achievements and accomplishments and congratulate her past triumphs is extremely important for her future success.”

As a biology major heading into her freshman year of college, McKenzi Custus felt the air of confidence that many of our kids need to feel from not only her mother but the incredible support system of family and friends that were in attendance to cheer her on that day.

“Kenzi” as mom passionately calls her mentioned that her daughter said to her early this summer, “mom, this is the best summer I’ve ever had. I’ve gotten to spend so much time with my family and friends and it meant the world to me.”

As McKenzi was celebrated, each person attending had great words of encouragement, while some reminisced about their days of college with great optimism for McKenzi. Her great-grandmother held back tears to talk about her great-granddaughter.

“Grand mom loves her very much and I’m gonna miss her,” says Marian Custus, great grandmother and the matriarch of the Custus family. “She’s special to me because she used to live with me and it makes me cry. Congratulations in everything she does, I wish her the best and I’m gonna miss her.”

McKenzi Custus will be attending a university that will allow her to travel abroad during her four years. She will see the world and yes, the world will be yours McKenzi and to all of the young people in West Philadelphia, shoot for the stars because the world awaits your contributions.

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.