The Rev. Robert Collier Sr., president of The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — The Black Clergy of Philadelphia held a news conference Tuesday afternoon in front of Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center to discuss concerns over the lack of progress rebuilding the city’s worst recreation centers.
Last month, the clergy organization gathered in front of Waterview Recreation Center to discuss the same problem: deteriorating facilities and lack of programs in areas where gun violence is the most prevalent.
In response to the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity’s demand for immediate action in October, a city spokesperson said the city “thanks the Black Clergy for its continued partnership to support stronger communities. We agree with the clergy that city rec centers are vital places that help communities become stronger and give young people a safe place to connect with caring adult role models.”
“Through the Rebuild program, this administration has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to capital improvements in parks, rec centers, and libraries,” the statement continued.
According to the Black Clergy, there are 50 recreation centers on the list to be rebuilt and repaired to an adequate and appropriate standard. However, the group said action has not been taken with swift enough measures.
“We’re going to keep showing up at the worst of the recreation centers in need of repair or in need of completely new buildings, holding press conferences until we see the kind of movement that this concern deserves,” said Rev. Gregory Holston, chair of the Black Clergy Criminal Justice Reform Committee. “One thing we know for sure. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. We will not sit silently by as progress moves at a snail’s pace while our children are being killed on our streets. We need action with the Philadelphia Rebuild process, and we need it now.”
Love Zion Baptist Church adopted Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center several years ago. Rev. Clarerence Wright called the center the heart of the North Philadelphia neighborhood.
“It is no accident that when our rec centers were closed during the pandemic, the spike in crime and the spike in homicides has coincided with that shutdown,” Wright said. “It is my belief that this, right where we are standing, is the front line to fight crime in our community.”
According to the City Controller’s interactive crime mapping database, there have been 483 homicides in Philadelphia this year. Of those victims, 191 have been 18 or younger. Wright said many of the shootings are youths shooting youth, and that recreation centers can offer programs and resources that could help these teens and young adults.
According to Wright, the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center was on the Rebuild list but has yet to see any redevelopment.
“Years ago, before the beginning of the soda tax, we were told that this rec center was No. 2 on the list,” Wright said. “Now, if you look at where we are, if No. 2 on the list has not seen a single nail and a single hammer go into a wall, what does that say about for 3 or 4, No. 50 or 67?”
Many of the city’s recreation centers are decayed and lack proper staffing, support or programs to serve the youth in the communities. Some of the facilities have been closed altogether in neighborhoods that need them the most.
“The Rebuild program has not satisfied us because there are too many recreation centers where nothing has been done,” said Rev. Robert Collier Sr., president of The Black Clergy.
“We want immediate results, immediate funding. We don’t want to wait for the Philadelphia Rebuild plan to go into effect, it’s already supposedly in effect,” he continued.
Ed Flythe, known as “Coach Kook” describes the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center conditions as “terrible.” He coached basketball and ran camps at the center throughout the summer and said there were more than enough staff to support children at the center this summer. However, the kids who traveled to other recreation centers throughout the city wondered why the conditions varied.
“When we go to other centers, and we play games other places, they wonder why their parents can come and sit and watch, we don’t have that situation here,” Flythe said.
He said not only is the center’s gym small, but it is obsolete.
“We work hard, we do what we need to do. But we do deserve the best for this community. It is like a black hole. We are always last, I’ve been doing this 40 years and I’m not used to it, and I don’t want these kids to have to go through this any longer.”
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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