ABOVE PHOTO: The new Mantua Civic Association Community Center (Photos/Jim Brown)
By Jim Brown
On August 3, 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to the intersection of 40th & Lancaster Avenue near Haverford Avenue in Philadelphia’s Mantua section and spoke to 10,000 people as part of his Freedom Now Rally Tour, which focused on voter’s rights and featured community leaders addressing local issues and concerns. Three days later, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
At that time, Mantua’s leaders were the late Dr. Herman C. Wrice and Rev. Andy Jenkins, and they met with King at the home of the late civil rights activist Abigail Pankey. King spoke with them and other area leaders about the work they were doing.
Jenkins — who was president of the Mantua Community Planners at the time — would always use the phrase “Plan of be planned for” to empower leaders to encourage the community to work together and to be self-sufficient in order to stand up to those outside entities that wanted to gentrify the neighborhood for over 60 years.
Over the last 10 years, Mantua’s new leaders — DeWayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association (MCA), Sam “The Food Fairy” Samuel (treasurer and community outreach coordinator) and Gwen Morris (secretary) have led an efficient and results-oriented community organization. Jenkins shared his thoughts about the current leadership.
“I am very happy and impressed because they are very involved, from the youth to the seniors, and they are “hands on” leaders — meaning that they don’t work from their homes and from an office,” he said. “They go into the streets (of Mantua), and I really appreciate that.”
These individuals had been working tirelessly for Mantua for over ten years without a brick and mortar building to call their own, but that has changed through a great partnership and the philanthropic heart of realtor George Bantel of West Philadelphia Real Estate company. The properties on the 3700 block of Melon Street were barren for more than five decades, with about 4 houses left from the original block. Bantel’s vision to create a dedicated space for MCA was nothing short of the miracle that was needed for the organization to continue its mission with a permanent roof over their heads.
Recently, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the Mantua Civic Association opened its doors at 3720 Melon Street to area residents and the community partners that were there from the inception of the organization to what it has become today. They now have a state-of-the-art resource center, with their own offices and open space that can hold about 250 people for multiple services and activities.
The organization embodies the principles of Dr. King’s vision to serve the community and be well-informed through good partnerships and the people that understand their roles in Mantua — the residents. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner seemed clear about what King’s vision was for communities like Mantua and said that he was a huge fan of the civil rights icon.
“King’s idea was that the government had to stand up and make sure that we funded our schools properly and [that] we took care of our young people properly,” he said. “His idea was that we would take care of poor people and working people who would take care of their struggles and their challenges.”
“So, I love everything that you’re doing, but I know the exhausting role of government, and fortunately, government is here,” Krasner added. “I love Mantua, and I love to see this kind of community involvement and people coming together — [it’s] obvious that you care for each other.”
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (D-3rd Dist.) spoke about MCA’s progress over the years as a community organization.
“Nobody should have counted you out, and I’m just so proud of you for realizing that vision and bringing it to life — not just in the form of an organization, but here in the brick and mortar [that] you created [as] a safe space for your community members to come to — and I am incredibly proud of that [too],” she said.
Drummond spoke about the new building and the hard work it took to make that vision a reality.
“Well, it’s been a long time,” he said. “We went from a P.O. box to a home. It started almost 10 years ago when we partnered up with Temple Contemporary — when this block only had four houses on it, and we buried a house. This is the outcome of us burying the house — and this is the resurrection of it.”
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