Mt. Airy City Council aide breaking 'cycle of trauma'

Posted 8/13/20

The Mt. Airy resident is the founder of The Social Impact Cafe at 6620 Germantown Ave., a location she shares with Mount Airy Groceries to provide children in need with snack boxes of healthy food in …

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Mt. Airy City Council aide breaking 'cycle of trauma'

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The Mt. Airy resident is the founder of The Social Impact Cafe at 6620 Germantown Ave., a location she shares with Mount Airy Groceries to provide children in need with snack boxes of healthy food in a program called Bright Smiles. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

Ericka Stewart might not be like anyone else I have ever met. The tattooed Mt. Airy resident, 33, who says she has been “masculine-presenting” all of her life (“I wore a men's suit and tie to my graduation at Central High School”), has lived in 19 different locations in the 15 years since high school and has had 12 jobs in nonprofits, none for more than two years.

But Ericka might break her employment record with her current job as director of constituent services for new City Council member Kendra Brooks, a Democratic Socialist in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders. It is a match made in heaven for Ericka, an activist whose motto is "Break the cycle of trauma one meal at a time" and who is passionate about social and racial justice and gay rights.

Ericka Stewart is also the founder of The Social Impact Cafe at 6620 Germantown Ave., a location she shares with Mount Airy Groceries to provide children in need with snack boxes of healthy food — fruits, vegetables, yogurt, etc. — in a program called Bright Smiles.

“There are 122,000 kids in poverty in Philadelphia,” said Ericka. “Many have had a great many traumatic experiences. I understand them because I have experienced nine of those traumatic experiences myself, so I'm a survivor. I never had to sleep outside, but I have gone through a lot.

“I have basically been on my own since the age of 14. I really did not think I would make it to the age of 33 alive, so I feel I am doing pretty good just to make it this far. I hope to make it for 20 more years. I have developed skills on the streets to be able to create a culture to help, and that's what I do every day.

“There are so many people living on the street, and I have to speak up for them. And I need to be held accountable. There are people who think the homeless, some of whom are actually taxpayers, do not deserve shelter when it is 100 degrees outside. So I deliver healthy food to senior centers, kids who may be missing meals, the homeless on the Parkway, etc. I always have food with me to give away.”

In Ericka's City Council job, she gets about 20 calls a day. Most say they want Councilwoman Brooks to vote a certain way on a bill. About three out of the 20, however, are usually people seeking help with a personal problem. For example, they cannot pay an electric bill, and they have been threatened with a cutoff of service. Or they have a problem with a city agency.

“I will go to the agency or Peco and try to resolve it,” Ericka explained. “You get to know the right people after a while. The only case I could not resolve was a woman who wanted to move a loved one's cemetery plot to another cemetery because of poor maintenance. The cost to move it was about $7000, which she could not afford. So that case has not been resolved yet.”

Stewart is so compassionate and empathetic that she occasionally engages in a fast, not because of any religious ritual but so she can literally feel the physical hunger pains experienced often by the children and families she helps through Everyone Love Someone, another nonprofit she has founded.

According to Fame Neal, of AfroPhilly.com, “Stewart is one of many black and openly LGBTQ leaders in Philly doing their part to provide healing to communities they grew up in. The importance of visibly black, queer women in piloting social projects in their communities is highly underestimated. This past Election Day we witnessed history as a monumental number of black women and openly LGBTQ state officials were voted into office.”

Ericks insists she has had “an education you cannot get at Harvard or Yale. I want to be an advocate for those who have been overlooked. I am completely transparent. When I step into a room, I get attention. God has covered me since I was 14 to now. I am an only child, but I did not meet my father until I was 25. My mom did not put me down for being gay. She supported me.

“And Dr. William Tate, a minister of music who is now 89 years old, also supported me. When I was in the 6th grade, I went to a NASA space camp in Florida, and Dr. Tate paid for it. Otherwise, I could not have gone. And when Nelson Mandela came to Philadelphia to accept an award, Dr. Tate took me there to see him. So I owe so much to God, my mom and Dr. Tate.”

For more information, email thesocialimpactcafe@gmail.com. You can reach Len Lear at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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