Mt. Airy block hosts party that drew local polls, encouraged voting

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Mt. Airy neighbors fired up their speakers this past Saturday for a “Party with a Purpose” in the form of a socially distanced block party in the 100 block of West Sedgwick and 7000 block of Mower Streets.

Democratic politicians State Representative Christopher Rabb, and US Congressman Dwight Evans visited with neighbors and participated in an array of activities.

Food, drinks, Black Lives Matter (BLM) signs and t-shirts were for sale, voter registration tables were set up, residents put out rummage sale and free items, and all built community around the social justice theme.

Pamela Gwaltney and Mary Kalyna were co-coordinators for the “feel good” event.

“It was all very organic,” Gwalenty said. “We had a neighbor switching jobs and she said she wanted to dance in the streets and we had music on in our patios and several groups of neighbors danced with her and we said ‘we should do that again’ and so we decided to make it into a larger party. During this pandemic we are finding new ways to build community to support each other, so we are improvising and doing what we can with what we have.”

According to Kalyna, who is the coordinator for the daily BLM vigils at the Unitarian Church on Lincoln Drive, the spotted lanternfly invasion also got neighbors talking in person and then online.

“We started talking by Zoom this summer and thought it would be about Black Lives Matter, but it grew into something more – a neighborhood party with a purpose. Physically we’ve had to distance but we are still very much a community,” said Kalyna, who was all smiles on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. “This has far surpassed my expectations.”

Democratic Committeeman Michael Kleiner was integral to getting the politicians on board.

“Having African Americans and others working together is important to explore issues like systemic racism and getting out the vote for the upcoming elections. It just seemed like a good time to get people engaged,” Kleiner said. “There was a recent comment on my Facebook page saying that this is what makes Mt. Airy such a special neighborhood, and it is so true.”

With the backdrop of the South Philadelphia based Unidos da Filadelfia drummers, State Representative Chris Rabb said he was proud to be a part of the surrounding community.

“I want to thank you for making this community so vibrant,” he said. “It shows. It’s very intentional and it’s very loving and inclusive. I could use more of that in Harrisburg,” said Rabb. “One of the highest forms of community building involves art and family and neighborhood and love, and in these pressing times this is what we need more of to move forward. We need more music and culture and understanding as it is the answer to hate and bigotry and division.”

Rabb talked further about the state of affairs in a divided Harrisburg.

“I’m in a very toxic workplace 100 miles west of here. I’m surrounded by many people who don’t believe in masks, who don’t believe in diversity, who don’t believe in racial equality, or indeed that black lives do in fact matter. They don’t care about trans or queer lives. These are my colleagues and it is desperate times for me and other progressives. I’m here to get rejuvenated and to go back and represent this community.”

Rose Roscioli had a front row seat to the drummers. She was selling household items, donating 25 percent to the Biden campaign.

“This is Mt. Airy. I’m so proud to have made my home here over 30 years ago. The diversity, the spirit and the kindness of the neighbors is so amazing,” Roscioli said.

Susan King was there with her wife, Barbara Hall.

“It’s great. I love to see this in our neighborhood. There’s always something going on and we even have a listserv that is a good way to keep informed,” King said.

While there was no final count on money raised, the funds will go to the Black Lives Matter movement and Philadelphia Covid-19 Fund.

Congressman Evans used the opportunity to urge residents to get out the vote and to be counted in the census.

“Community events that are held in a safe way can be vital during this difficult time. I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with fellow Philadelphians in ways that are designed to protect everyone’s health. I also want to remind everyone there’s still time to register to vote or check your registration at VotesPA.com, and Sept. 30 is the deadline to complete the census,” Evans said. “Taking 5 to 10 minutes to complete the census is one of the most important things you can do to help our community get the federal health care funding it needs, along with our fair share of representation in Harrisburg and Washington.”

Evans noted that the website for the census is 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020.

Kalyna believes this is the first in a series of more organized events.

“Kids won’t be going trick or treating in the normal way, but we will come up with a way to safely celebrate Halloween and also since it’s so close to the election we will tie a get out the vote campaign into it as well,” said Kalyna. “This is what building community is all about.”

Committeeman Maurice Sampson said he was impressed with the efforts in organizing in a short amount of time.

“This is great. This block has always been tight but now they are organized and even had elected officials here and a party that came about very quickly. They have quickly come of age and I’m looking forward to working with them on election related issues,” Sampson said. “This is what Mt. Airy is all about.”

Correspondent Barbara Sherf can be reached at Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.

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