I am back in the city of my birth - Philadelphia Pennsylvania and I have the birth certificate from Lankenau Hospital to prove that this is where I was born.
I have not been home in more than two years.
The first thing I did was to execute my standard routine:
- Go purchase a real "Philly Cheese Steak" from "Papa's Pizza at the corner of 61st and Lancaster
- Drive through the Overbrook section of the city to make note of how the places where I spent my formative years are holding up
- Go to the "Corner Store" at 61st and Jefferson
- Purchase a bag of Herr's Barbque potato chips
- A copy of the Philadelphia Daily News & Tribune
- Go back to the first house that I lived in to see how the block is holding up
- Go joy riding in a larger portion of the city
- Head over to South Jersey to see my family that has gotten out of Philly
I literally had in my hand this past weekend (in Atlanta) a copy of the DuBois work "The Philadelphia Negro". I chose not to purchase it because it was merely a bound series of photocopies of the original book published in 1899.
Du Bois gathered information for the study in the time period between August 1896 and December 1897.  In conducting his research, Du Bois went house to house and conducted personal interviews with each individual head of household. Du Bois combined his data with census data to analyze the social and economic conditions of African Americans in Philadelphia. Du Bois discusses his methods:
In a house-to-house investigation there are, outside the attitude of the investigator, many sources of error: misapprehension, vagueness and forgetfulness, and deliberate deception on the part of the persons questioned, greatly vitiate the value of the answers; on the other hand, conclusions formed by the best trained and most conscientious students on the basis of general observation and inquiry are really inductions from but a few of the multitudinous facts of social life, and these may easily fall far short of being essential or typical.
It is my opinion that there is time for a new study of "The Philadelphia Negro".
About a month ago I heard a report on the local NPR show "Radio Times" (from Philly) which noted that despite being a majority Black city - with a favorable dominate Democratic power structure the Blacks in the city feel "Economically and Political DISENFRANCHISED". As one moves beyond the newly rebuilt city center and the reinvestments around the colleges and universities in the city - indeed the neighborhoods bear witness to the environments within which a person can understandably have these sentiments.
The Economic Situation In Da Hood
Last night on my way back from watching the NBA Finals I drove down Lansdowne Ave - one of the main commercial strips in West Philly. Beyond the noted changes in businesses that I noted from my reference from 25 years ago - I could not help but notice that the only stores open at 10pm were Chinese Food joints. They all sold "fast food" and malted alcoholic drinks. It was hard to notice that in one 3 block area of Lansdowne Ave there were four Chinese restaurants and one (Black owned) bar on the strip.
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This is not an attack on the Chinese proprietors. They have studied the opportunity in the community based on the needs and they are merely supplying the demand.
I saw a series of independent vendors of cold drinks lining Route 1 as I came in. Several vendors had an ice cooler on the corner. They would work the traffic selling bottled water and Gatoraid to the people at the stop light. The heat that they suffered through brought them a slow trickle of funds at $2 or $3 a bottle.
In talking with my father it was clear - Philadelphia has a shortage of JOBS for people in the community.
Those young males who exit high school as "Big Men On Campus" - who slip up and forget their "Philly Freedom" condoms that were advertised on the radio between the "strip club" songs that they played in heavy rotation - has a unique set of challenges as he has a high school education and the mouth of a child to feed.
My father is at the exiting end of his career. As a retiree he is able to market:
- Alternative Voice Over IP phone services to people who still pay Verizon $70 a month for a phone line
- Alternative electrical service to people who pay PECO energy for their higher rates
- Health Food and Water Purification products
In short - though these products offer residual income, once you build up a sufficient customer base - they are not the "bi-weekly pay checks" that these young brothers are looking for to feed their families.
Couple this with the mouth of the mother of his child that is constantly reminding him how much money and support she needs to feed the child that they had together and this works out to be a lot of stress on a young brother.
The eco-system of Philadelphia has failed to retain/create the conditions for sustained employment for young males with such a profile. As such their are unable to live up to a desirable standard of living.
The New Trend In Security Devices
Gone is the "Lazy Susan" type of rotating bullet proof glass box where the money is placed in, the cashier swings it around and then places the bagged merchandise in for handoff to the customer.
It has been replaced by a fixed bullet-proof glass box. There is an opening in the main glass facing the customer and then the box which allows the retailer to exchange money and merchandise by placing it through their hole at the end of the box.
Clearly people have been robbing these stores with shotguns. This configuration prevents a weapon to be stuck into the portal. The arm wielding the gun would have to be inserted into the box and then curve around to aim at the cashier. With the arm laid out as such the cashier merely needs to snatch the gun out of the person's hand. With the presence of a "Street Pirate Threat" comes ingenuity.
I jokingly asked a man who was standing in line with me: "Are they robbing you all with shot guns now up here?" "Yeah brother - they don't play any more in Philly. They want to clean you out".