Local: North Philly Seniors Protest, Cry for Help

News / November 2, 2012

“Inconvenience people and they’ll start listening,” said Lila, a North Philadelphia senior citizen who along with 30 other senior citizen protesters filled the intersection of 22nd and Diamond Street this morning.

The morning frigid air wasn’t enough to prevent them from continuing a fight that has apparently been going on since the 1980’s. As a point of reference, think back to when former mayor, John Street, was the President of City Council. Yes…that long ago. Over the next 20 years they reached out to countless city officials to try to gain some support for their concerns.

Edith Lollie, a woman who served as the group leader from 2005-2009 is simply frustrated with the lack of results.

“We’ve been trying to get Darrell Clarke involved–he is…reluctantly involved, let me put it that way– we’ve also had Senator Shirley Kitchen with us and when Jewell Williams was the State Rep he was working with us. In 2008 we went down to City Hall as a group and protested–many of the people that you see here today–were apart of that protest,” she said.

So what exactly is it that they’re protesting for? What has taken nearly 20 years to get to this point?

A new building…hell even an improved building .

The seniors currently make good use of the Martin Luther King Recreation Center on 22nd and Diamond. Through the Older Adult Center they join exercise and dance classes; hold veterans and personal interest meetings; organize and coordinate senior trips to places such as Atlantic City and Caribbean cruises; and most importantly, fellowship.

However, they  often times do so in fear.

The intersection and the MLK Center specifically has served as the crime scene for multiple shootings and murders. A few years ago they organized a trip to Atlantic City and had they come back two hours earlier, they would have all been in the building when a neighborhood youth shot and killed his nemesis during a basketball game that took place in the rec’s gym. On September 28th CeaseFire Pa reported the shooting of a 17-year-old boy right outside of the rec center. In addition to all of this the intersection is prone to accidents–many of which I’ve personally witnessed.

In addition to their concerns about the violence, the building is also used as a drug rehabilitation center and often times the seniors are forced to maneuver their way into the building among recovering addicts, which for them is a concern. It’s not that they don’t support the program and its work, they said that they simply have no way of knowing who is fully recovered and who is not–therefore they don’t know what anyone is capable of doing.

“The city people are aware of what’s going on. Now their big thing will be that ‘we don’t have any money’; when they had money they didn’t do anything to help us. They did nothing. Absolutely nothing,” said Lollie.

To throw salt on their wounds, they allege that they’ve been promised the lot across the street at 21st and Cecil B. Moore but they report that the lot was just given to  Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M, a co-founder of the well known organization Project H.O.M.E for a wellness center. According to the information relayed to them by officials, the seniors at MLK will be able to use a space in the wellness center. Another reported promise was that they would be given a space directly across the street from the MLK Center and therefore could commute between the two for all of their needs.

They scoffed at the thought.

“It’s a danger to have seniors walking across the street. What about the weather? It could be a day like this when it’s cold or it snows or anything. And then you don’t know if bullets will be flying up and down the street or not! It’s not conducive to us,” said Lollie.

For them, the official’s renege on their word simply isn’t fair and they’re fed up. After watching new senior centers go up in various areas of Philly, they’re screaming that enough is enough.

“I personally feel that if we were Juniata Park or South Philadelphia, any ah…and I hate to play the race card but any place other than here, we would have had a center,” said Lollie.

Cathy Williams, a long time organizer and North Philly resident interjected her thoughts as well: “We deserve a center. All these years we’ve been working, we’ve been protesting, we’ve been asking–but no one has come help us. And it’s because we’re in this neighborhood…this is North Philadelphia,” she said.

Williams went on to explain that there just isn’t enough room in the center and that in the summer it’s worse because there is no air conditioning and the bathrooms are sub-par  As I walked into the Older Adult Center, nearly 80 seniors crowded the room that was already filled with a desk, two pool tables and multiple tables and chairs. I had to maneuver through chairs that were barely able to be pulled all the way out so that I could get by. The narrow hallway that connected to a small area held the overflow of seniors that couldn’t be contained in the main area. They lined a bench along the hallway wall and enjoyed music, hot coffee and tea as they chatted and watched others dance in the little space that they could between the tables and chairs.

This is how we take care of our tax-paying elders? 

Williams shook her head as she spoke with me, “see how cramped we are…there’s a lady who comes in there in a wheel chair and sits in her wheel chair all day because there’s no place for her to go. She got to sit in that chair. That’s not fair. We really need a center. So we’ll keep protesting, and asking and begging for somebody to help us.”

The seniors of the Martin Luther King Recreation Center located at 2101 Cecil B Moore Avenue are requesting the public’s help in anyway possible. Their demands are for the most part…pretty damn reasonable: a wheel chair accessible building with adequate parking.

That’s it.

If you’d like to help or connect with the MLK Older Adult Center to support or join the cause, please e-mail or

– Sincerely Syreeta

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