ABOVE PHOTO: Mayor Michael A. Nutter with Rahim Islam, President/CEO of Universal Companies.
Photo credit: City of Phila.
Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia School Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman and Music Mogul and Founder of Universal Companies, Kenny Gamble announced the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, a partnership designed to bolster educational needs, assist in blight removal and offer new economic opportunities in the Point Breeze and Grays Ferry sections of South Philadelphia.
The effort is sponsored by a $10 million Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant from the United States Department of Education. Universal Companies is one of 21 organizations throughout the nation receiving $500,000. Universal also raised matching funds for a total of $1,000,000 to spearhead the planning process.
Joining in today’s announcement were the Honorable United States House of Representative Chaka Fattah (D-Pennsylvania), Honorable State Senators Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), State Representative Kenyatta Johnson (D-Philadelphia), Honorable City Council President Anna C. Verna, along with other elected officials and key stakeholders.
Universal Companies was selected as the only grantee in the City of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The one-year grant will allow Universal and its partners to create a strategic plan providing cradle-to-career services designed to improve educational achievement and support the healthy development of children within the targeted neighborhoods. Universal was selected for their demonstrated expertise in community revitalization especially in neighborhoods with marked economic disparity and blight.
“This grant represents an unprecedented opportunity for the city of Philadelphia because for the first time in my career as a community developer, we have the resources and the will to examine the state of affairs across multiple areas of discipline (i.e. social, health, economic, employment, education, etc.),” said Rahim Islam, President/CEO of Universal Companies. “It will allow us to develop baseline data on the community, which we can monitor while we begin to implement a comprehensive plan of action – I’m ecstatic.”
“Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Arne Duncan said. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”
We are truly happy to partner with Universal Companies on this effort, because it is imperative that we use all of the tools at our disposal to address the needs of our young people. It is an added bonus that the Promise Neighborhoods initiative will allow us to also bring about some positive changes in the communities surrounding our schools,” stated Schools Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman. “We know that by empowering the parents of our students, we in turn improve the likelihood of their academic success, so we are very excited about what’s in store,” she continued.
In September 2009, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission recertified both neighborhoods as blighted and in need of revitalization – the original certification was in 1968. The specific boundaries of the Universal Promise Neighborhoods are – Broad Street on the east; Snyder Avenue on the south; Washington Avenue on the north; and Grays Ferry Avenue/Schuylkill Expressway on the west.
“The Promise Neighborhoods initiative is a great opportunity to invest carefully and strategically in a community to improve the future for Philadelphia’s young people,” said Mayor Nutter. “My Administration looks forward to working with Universal and the School District to craft and initiate this progressive plan.”
Universal Companies, a not for profit Community Development and Education Management Corporation formed under the direction of one of Philadelphia’s greatest talents, world-renowned lyricist, composer, producer, Mr. Kenny Gamble – who continues to serve as Chairman and Rahim Islam. Since 1993, Universal has built the capacity to challenge and reverse the effects of urban decline and has become one of the largest and most successful community revitalization movements in the history of the city of Philadelphia.
Working in several Philadelphia neighborhoods, Universal has built more than 1,000 units of affordable and market rate housing and currently manages five kindergartens – grade 9 schools (3 as charters and 2 as contract schools). “When my wife, Faatimah, and I decided to relocate back to my old neighborhood of South Philadelphia to undertake this revitalization, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would be able to do so much and so quickly,” said Kenny Gamble. “This recognition represents the icing on the cake and confirms that we did the right thing and it encourages us to stay the course.”
Promise Neighborhoods, established under the legislative authority of the Fund for the Improvement of Education Program (FIE), provides funding to support eligible entities, including non profit organizations, which may include faith-based nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher education. The Promise Neighborhoods movement is about the determination of community leaders to end the vicious cycle of poverty – to save our children one neighborhood at a time.
As part of its successful application, Universal Companies partnered with the Philadelphia School District of Philadelphia, which is developing a Promise Neighborhood Advisory Committee and corresponding subcommittees that will be compromised of professionals, community stakeholders to work with the District on all aspects of schools. In addition, Universal is working in collaboration with Claudia Sherrod, President of Point Breeze Community Development Coalition, which consists of 31 neighborhood civic and community organizations; Jim Helman representing the Grays Ferry Partnership, a group of 7 neighborhood organizations in the Grays Ferry Community; Diversified Community Services and Point Breeze Performing Arts Center; collectively they represent the largest and most experienced community based organizations in South Philadelphia.
Moreover, the William Penn Foundation provided a matching grant in the amount of $250,000 to assist with the planning work along with 40 other organizations including the city of Philadelphia, Reinvestment Fund, Keystone Mercy Health Plan, Temple University and Greater Philadelphia Health Associates to name a few. Islam concluded, “This effort will test the capacity of, not only Universal, but our ability to pull together the many partners who have pledge their support for us to be successful, this will truly be a team effort.”
To learn more about Universal Companies and the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, visit the official website at www.UniversalCompanies.org and view the video or call (215) 732-6518.