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POWER unites at Historic Tindley Temple

From the South Philadelphia Review

“What if change were really possible?” a slide asked 2,000 souls Sunday evening at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, 750 S. Broad St.

Primed to respond, the Christian, Jewish and Muslim figures beseeched dignitaries and God to help to heal their fragmented neighborhoods. Members of 42 congregations, the eager voices courted intervention as representatives of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an interfaith movement intent on diminishing communal distress.

clappingmanTindley Temple, a 174-year-old site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, won the hosting honor for the founding convention because of its 3,200-seat capacity. Pews buzzed with anticipation for a full hour before the 6 p.m. opening, as attendees, including those from Tindley Temple and three more South Philadelphia locations, hoped the night would yield a promising return on their two-year-old transformative mission.

Rev. Lillian Smith, the location’s senior pastor, delivered the welcome before Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant prayers solidified POWER’s stance that diverse religious beliefs offer solidarity and not division when participants attempt to solve ills.

“We have a shared vision regardless of zip codes, too,” Rev. Mark Tyler of Society Hill’s Mother Bethel African Methodist Church said after presenting an extended metaphor with Philadelphia as a modern day Jerusalem, the famed capital city of Israel, whose walls fell during the First Jewish-Roman War in 70 A.D.

Just as Israel was susceptible to the Romans’ attacks, Philadelphia seems open to assaults from many adversaries, with POWER members’ 1,000 city-resident interviews over the last year tabbing health, housing, jobs, safety and schools as the top policy areas. Philadelphia suffers from a 10.8 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor; residents contend with 40,000 vacant lots, according to the City; and 10 percent of Philadelphians lack health insurance, according to Public Health Management Corp.

Rev. Robin Hynicka, of Center City’s Arch Street United Methodist Church, disclosed POWER’s platform to combat the data. One could argue its topics have plagued Philadelphia for as long as Tindley Temple has stood, so Hynicka announced a sequential approach, with upping employment as the movement’s initial goal.

February meetings put POWER constituents in the company of 40 private and public sector leaders to garner support for their initiative, an affiliate of the People Improving Communities through Organizing National Network. Sunday’s gathering includes appearances by accomplished guests, including Mayor Michael Nutter, whose wife Lisa had a Feb. 12 meeting with the Education/Youth Team in North Philadelphia.

Forty-percent of Philadelphia workers have incomes below the poverty level

POWER, whose congregations have contributed more than $40,000 and have received more than $150,000 from local foundations and national faith-based funders, pines for the creation of 10,000 jobs by 2016. The health care sector and the proposed expansion of the Philadelphia International Airport plan to improve bank accounts and restore Philadelphia’s reputation as a moneymaking municipality. With their allies forming an impressive panoramic view, the group’s heads marched to the front for roll call and acceptance of the platform.

donna from epiphany of our lord rc churchPastor Albo Siahaan of the Philadelphia Praise Center, 1701 McKean St., a Franconia Mennonite Conference location, endorsed the platform and drew cheers from his two dozen accompanying worshipers. Donna Candelora spoke for the 80 attendees from Epiphany of Our Lord Church, 11th and Jackson streets, and Rev. Joseph Genito, pastor and director at The National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, 1166 S. Broad St., gave his approval on behalf of his 100 parishioners. Following a performance of the POWER theme song, a reworking of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” complete with the exclamatory “Huh,” Kathleen Elmasry, a St. Rita member, detailed her battle with joblessness.

“Right now, you are looking at the face of the unemployed,” the resident of South Juniper Street and East Passyunk Avenue said.

Elmasry, with 34 years of experience in orthopedics, took a leave from her job to tend to her ill mother. Her employer terminated her and others to save money, initiating a 16-month span over which she has applied for more than 1,200 jobs and has earned not a single interview. Her benefits expire in 10 weeks, so she has resorted to selling her jewelry to lessen her fear, but the consequence has been a rise in frustration.

“There are jobs out there, but people do not want to hire the unemployed,” she said. “Unemployed jobseekers are in a Catch-22 because the longer they are unemployed, the more difficult their situations become.”

Though highly skilled and possessing a solid work record, Elmasry resembles many Philadelphians. The Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board revealed in July that 41 percent of adults are not in the labor force, 36 percent of employed city residents have less than full-time employment and 40 percent of workers have incomes below the poverty level. Summer meetings sured up speaking commitments for Sunday, and the crowd eagerly gave attention to the panelists’ responses to congregational inquiries.

applause at mayor nutter's commitmentsRev. John Pidgeon, the pastor of Lower Moyamensing’s Epiphany of Our Lord, sought support from Liz McElroy of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, and Cheryl Feldman, the director of Center City’s District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund. The labor representatives vowed to help to provide literacy and health care instruction, with Feldman, whose organization has for 37 years aided health care and human services providers, especially grateful for the chance to erase the unemployed and underemployed tallies. As many participants hold health care jobs and take classes at the Fund’s Breslin Learning Center, Feldman proved popular, as did her political successors on the dais.

POWER endorses no particular political theory and consults elected officials mainly with the goal of tapping their knowledge. Despite its proven ability to raise money, collection of dues and receipt of grants, POWER still requires some financial assistance to secure wider outreach, with the hope being to give Philadelphia more working residents. Always an advocate for jobs, Nutter disclosed his devotion to honoring his connection with POWER.

“I want us to focus on at least these five issues,” the incumbent, who met with POWER officials Aug. 30, said after citing Ephesians 6:10-12, which talks of a struggle “against the powers of this dark world.”

He stressed needing help from the state and federal governments, refraining from offering a tangible plan. Councilman-at-Large Bill Green, though, garnered raves for a publicly-funded projects bill. The City is hoping to complete a $6.5-billion renovation of the Philadelphia International Airport by 2025, and Green wants 50 percent of the worker hours to go to Philadelphians. Members of the nonprofit are looking to converse with Nutter by the end of October about a community benefits agreement that would put the City in direct contact with job-hungry inhabitants.

“This is a wedding,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of North Philadelphia’s Living Water United Church of Christ said upon his being named POWER’s first executive director. “We have become married to one another to benefit our city.”

bridgetdevito from st. williamsCluster meetings will commence next month, with congregations posed to develop more strategies for job creation and the other areas.

“Public safety and housing were our main issues,” Candelora, of the 2300 block of South 11th Street said of Epiphany of Our Lord.

A member of the parish’s mobilization committee, she views POWER as a safeguard and encourages other South Philadelphia faith communities to join, as the current constituents represent more than 25,000 people. Smith, in her third month at Tindley Temple, will soon heed Candelora’s call. Though the host site, the church has yet to enter the flock. Its 20 attendees, however, hope jobs, their neighborhood’s top concern, will meet no resistance.

“Tonight helped everyone looking for interaction with people with similar aspirations,” she said. “We need prayer with action.”

For more information, contact info@powerphiladelphia.org.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.