Kensington Street in North Philly can be rough and maybe "scary" to some people. It's a tough neighborhood in the City and it looks the part.
But this weekend the tough street of Kensington took on a much kinder feel, a "festival" feel. The Rock Ministries church, located on Kensington Avenue, held a block long festival that was loaded with things to do for kids. Games, bouncies, water, games...... things for kids were everywhere. Being a kid in this neighborhood must be tough, but not this weekend.
I've attached some shots of kids having a great time on one of the toughest streets in the City.
I've always been fascinated with the old West Virginia coal towns. As an environmental consultant for many years, I did a bit of work for mining companies and I've worked in West Virginia many times. So I started seeing these coal towns many years ago, in the 90's. And the look as a consultant working for the mining companies was closer and deeper than I got this weekend.
But I decided to do a photo safari into southern West Virginia this weekend. I went to Bluefield and worked my way up through Beckely and up to the New River Gorge Bridge. Much of the area to the west of the Gorge is prime mining territory.
It's just sad to see this area now. So "broken", so devastated. Both the environment and the people. With the collapse of the coal mining business, for the most part, these old town are disintegrating. And poverty is rampant. It's so sad. The mine owners are gone now. They made their money and moved on.
But the people, who worked so hard, for so little, with all of the various added problems, like health, their environment, their livlihood, they're really the ones who took it on the chin.....again. It's just so sad.
Here are some shots that I liked:
This old school appeared as if everyone just left, all at once. Like an alien being just took everyone and let the building rot away.
The small mining towns in southern West Virginia are all small, very small. And the area is so hilly that they appear to be bolted to the side of the hills. The streets are so very small that only one car can go through them at one time. Lots of backing up.
I loved this scene. It's a porch of a church, that for some reason had a table and chairs on the front porch. I loved the yellow flower.
In Beckley, I took the underground mine tour. It's a real mine and the tour was given by a retired miner. So it was as realistic as it could be. I'll tell you, you would have to pay me a lot of money to be a miner. It's so cold, and dark, and wet, and dirty, and dusty, and........there's no good word that I can think of that I can use to describe a mining job.
West Virginia is such a pretty state...until you see the rape and destruction of the mining areas. This barn, along Route 219 around the middle of the State, was so pretty in the early morning light. It was so quiet, and felt so "soft" all around. For a minute I almost forget what I'd seen the previous day further to the south.
It was not a part of my ongoing Immigrant Community Photo Project, but I nonetheless shot a Russian wedding party event last night. Now that I'm shooting so much related to immigrants, a Russian wedding party event (not a reception, but a dinner party for a small crowd) was a thrill to shoot.
The event was at the Emperor Restaurant in Northeast Philly. There's a large russian and eastern european community in the Northeast, that I've done some shooting in already. The Emperor is a totally russian restaurant, where Russian is mainly spoken, wth some English. I love to hear the Russian language, I feel it's very "melodic".
The restaurant has a live Russian band, which was also a thrill to listen to. Not only were they good musically, but they had a light show that was great for shooting. I love this kind of light for creative shots.
Again, doing so much work with Immigrants, it's great to do a wedding event that's Russian. Here's some shots:
Most of Philly's immigrant communities take care of themselves. One way that they do this is taking care of their kids. And nothing takes care of Dominican kids like baseball. The national game of the Dominican Republic, it's something that every Dominican kid thinks about.
They all want to be like Willy Otenez. Willy went from the neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic to the Major Leagues. While most of his 25 year baseball career was spent in the minors, he's still a hero to Dominican kids. So when Willy holds one of his Baseball workshops, Dominican kids come. And speaking with some of the mothers who were there with their kids, there's genuine appreciation for Willy keeping kids off the streets and doing something productive.
And Willie's practices are long and hard. I mean, I played little league baseball and I never had to do push-ups for messing up batting practice!!
One important thing that I'm seeing as I do my Philly Immigrant Community photo project is the grit and determination of immigrants.....generally. One good example of this, and there are many more, is Dante Sanchez.
Dante was a gynecologist in the Dominican Republic. But even as an MD, he made less than $500 a month in income. With a family (wife and three kids), it was tough to get by. So Dante did what I'm finding consistently as I work with the different immigrant communities in Philadelphia. He left the Dominican Republic, alone, to come to America to look for a better way to raise his children and give them a better shot for their future.
BUT.....you don't just come to America and continue to work as an MD, from a license transfer perspective. So Dante started his new life in the USA (New York, as with many Dominican immigrants....until the living expenses kill you and you move to Philadelphia because it's cheaper to live) as a healh care aide. A health care aide.
Being smart and hard working, Dante stayed in the health care business, moved to Philadelphia to pursue some more advanced health care licensing.....then extended this to getting both a Bachelor's and a Masters Degree in the health care field. Dante then started a health care clinic in North Philadelphia that provides mental health services for anyone, but this includes lower income and many times immigrant patients.
He also became a Dominican community "organizer", working to advance the opportunites for all Philly Dominicans. One "job" he took on was to run the annual Dominican Parade as well as the "Miss Dominican Philadelphia" Beauty Pagent, where teen age Dominicans can "strut their stuff" to impress the judges and win this coveted title here in Philadelphia.
I've been inspired by Dante and all of the other similar immigrants that I've met through this photo book project. I don't know about you, but I could never, personally, do what Dante and the rest have done.
Here's a shot of Dante at the Pagent. Along with some shots of the contestants.
As a part of my photo book project, I've come to know the Liberian community in Southwest Philly and what they have done for Woodland Avenue. This previously mostly abandoned street has been turned into a vibrant economic corridor for the City. Many of the shops and stores along Woodland Avenue are owned by Liberians.
As I shot along the street, I noticed all of the blue barrels at many of the stores, see photos 1 and 2 below. I finally asked about what they were used for. It turns out that many Liberian families back home are still suffering from the effects of the civil was in the late 1990's. The economy was destroyed, as was the life of many Liberians. In fact, many Liberians in Philadelphia are here because of the civil war at home.
The blue barrels are used by Philly Liberians to ship materials to their families back home. A small business market in Southwest Philly has now grown up around this situation, where several local Liberian entrepreneurs has started small shipping businesses to address this need of Liberians here in Philadelphia.
Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philly can get to be very hectic on shopping days, as you can see in photo's 3 and 5 below. The are is served by a Septa trolly, on of my favorite modes of transportation since I was a kid (a LONG time ago).
And the stores and shops obviously serve the needs of their customers. Like the travel agency shown in shot 4. It's like any other travel agency, until you read the destinations that they are promoting. The the locations in the photo.