For Helen Clowney, working with and serving the neighbors on her neatly kept, tree-lined block in North Philadelphia has been a labor of love - one that has endured a half-century.
Looking out on the cherry blossoms that brighten the 2200 block of North Woodstock Street, Clowney speaks with pride of the street where she has lived her entire life and served as a block captain for 50 years. She is retiring this spring.
"It's a family block. It's like family. We're very close," Clowney said Thursday.
"If somebody gets sick, everybody steps in and helps," she said. "If they need something, we try to help them get it. It's just a close-knit block."
Last week, Clowney was honored by her neighbors, family, and community leaders at her church, St. Martin de Porres. More than 100 people attended.
Clowney, a widow who doesn't like to discuss her age, said she knew every person living on the block of 70 homes between Susquehanna Avenue and Dauphin Street.
"I can tell you who lives in each house," Clowney said.
And her neighbors know her for her activism, her generosity, and the whistle she blows when calling for them to participate in street cleanups several times a year.
"Miss Helen is one of the icons of this block," said neighbor Paul Richards. "She's going to be sorely missed as our block captain."
When it's time to clean up the block, "she gets out that whistle," Richards said. "She goes from the top of the block, blowing that whistle, and she has a few of the kids knocking on doors."
When the work is done, she gives everyone a treat, Richards said, usually a pretzel and water ice.
He and others said Clowney is known for organizing the street's annual Memorial Day block party.
Another neighbor, Bernice Hines, also recalled Clowney blowing her whistle to call out neighbors for projects.
"She used the whistle to say, 'All you lazy birds, get out here. You're a part of this block. Show your commitment to it,' " Hines said.
Asked what she liked about being a block captain, Clowney said, "It just makes me feel good inside. When we have affairs in the block, we never have any trouble. Everybody is just family."
Clowney noted that she has a cocaptain, Willie Mae Clark, who has worked with her for many years. "She's a very good person, and I think she should be recognized, too," Clowney said.
Clowney, a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls who spent her life as a stay-at-home mother with one child, said she enjoyed walking children to school and back home again.
Among her other interests, she said, she enjoys spending time at the Martin Luther King Older Adult Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where she leads a poetry class.
Clowney also likes to cut a few steps doing line dances. She said she enjoys doing the electric slide and the cha-cha slide. "The Baltimore - that's my favorite. They named that one after me," she quipped. "I taught my granddaughter, my son-in-law, and my daughter."
Her son-in-law, Tony Leonard, said Clowney goes to meetings with elected officials in the community and attends monthly meetings with police at the 22d District at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue. She describes Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who grew up in the neighborhood, as "two of my kids."
She is pleased that a neighbor, Jannette Robinson, will take over as block captain. Clowney said the street also has three junior block captains, two boys and a girl.
Clowney said she was stepping down because "I thought it was time enough for someone else to step up to the plate and take my place after 50 years."
Hines, her neighbor, stood on her front steps and looked down proudly.
"You see this block and the way it looks. It looks this way because of her," Hines said. "She has worked hard to keep it intact."
Written by Vernon Clark for the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 6, 2014.
Last week Sheriff Jewell Williams lead Operation Sunrise, a city wide sweep which brought in over a dozen fugitives with outstanding warrants.
AT-RISK YOUTH have voices too, and InLiquid Art and Design has created an exhibition that reflects those voices.
One of them belongs to Harmony Ellerbe, 14, a seventh-grader at Avery D. Harrington School in West Philadelphia.
Harmony, 14, said her art class had inspired her to write "Violence," a poem about a girl who was raped as a child, who lost her father to gun violence, whose brother was jailed and whose mother was addicted to drugs.
One little girl in a life full of violence, watched her dad get shot, seen her brother go to jail. Living in hell.
And that's just the beginning.
"The poem was about something that was going on with my friend in her life," Harmony said. "I felt bad for her and I was thinking about her.
"In art class we talked about violence, and it just came to me."
She read "Violence" to classmates and other artists at a preview of the exhibition yesterday.
The Traveling Youth Art Exhibition - on display until April 30 at Family Court, on Vine Street near 18th - features art by more than 25 girls and boys, each portraying a vision of community and home.
"Art is a really necessary way of expressing yourself, both positively and negatively," said Rachel Zimmerman, executive director of InLiquid, a nonprofit organization on American Street near Master, North Philadelphia.
The exhibition contains work by students at Edison High School, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Guild, the Harrington School and a program of Moore College of Art. Each visual or poetic artist has experienced the criminal-justice system, spent time in detention or been affected by it.
"I do a lot of social-justice art with my students. It gives students a voice," said Leila Lindo, an art teacher at Harrington on, Baltimore Avenue near 53rd Street.
"I like them to do art about topics that are important to them, and a lot of the time the things that are important to them have to do with social justice and their rights."
Lindo said that Harmony's poem shows how art can be therapeutic. The school's display, "My Neighborhood, My Community and Me," features collages that show boys and girls in their communities.
"It gives students the opportunity to open up and lets them know that they don't have to suppress how they feel and show people their artistic abilities," Harmony said of the exhibition.
The Sheriff's Office is sponsoring the exhibition, to support innovative programs that provide second chances to young people, some of whom have been in detention. InLiquid is putting on the exhibition in partnership with the Juvenile Law Center.
"The vast majority of these young people are from neighborhoods with known gangs, high crime rates and urban blight; they need creative options - including art programs, education and job opportunities," Sheriff Jewell Williams said. "I'd rather see the youth packing pens, paintbrushes, paper, notebooks and computers than packing pistols, shotguns or gang tattoos."
The exhibition can be seen from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will travel regionally after April.
Written by Ashley Kuhn for the Philadelphia Daily News on April 1, 2014.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Philadelphia juveniles paint their way to a second chance
At-risk student art exhibit opens at Family Court Division
Philadelphia, March 25—In partnership with INLIQUID Art and Design, the Office of the Sheriff of the City and County Of Philadelphia, invites the public to view the Traveling Youth Art Exhibition starting on Tuesday, April 1 through April 30, 2014 between the hours of 2pm and 5pm at the Philadelphia Family Division of Juvenile Court, 1801 Vine Street. The Art Exhibition is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the talents, creativity and determination of local public school students who were once affected by the juvenile justice system—in some cases due to circumstances beyond their control. Their artwork portrays their vision of their communities and homes.
The Office of the Sheriff is sponsoring the art exhibit to support innovative programs that provide second chances to youth, some of whom have been in detention. In 2013, the Sheriff's Office delivered 7,177 juvenile inmates to court and sentencing hearings.
“The vast majority of these young people are from neighborhoods with known gang, high crime rates and urban blight; they need creative options–including art programs, education and job opportunities,” said Sheriff Jewell Williams. “I'd rather see the youth packing pens, paint brushes, paper, notebooks and computers than packing pistols, shot guns, or gang tattoos.”
"I would like to see more of these art programs throughout the city, especially if they result in fewer juveniles visiting my court house," says Judge Kevin Dougherty, Administrative Judge of the Family Division of Juvenile Court. “Since 2009, the number of juvenile arrests have been decreased by nearly 3,000, we want to continue that trend.”
The Traveling Youth Art Exhibit collectioncontains works fromstudents at Edison High School, The Philadelphia Mural Arts Guild, Harrington Elementary School, and Moore College of Arts Learning through Photography Program. More than 30 pieces are on exhibit, representing students from all grade levels.The students were chosen from arts education programs; each has had experience in the criminal justice system or spent time in detention.
These youth artists were involved in art-making and engaged in creative outlets through their schools or through community organizations that prioritized access to the arts. The Traveling Art Show proves that all children and youth in Philadelphia need and deserve to have access to these same kinds of programs and opportunities. The artists from the Mural Arts Guild program are former dropouts who have returned to earn their high school diplomas.
The exhibit is one of INLIQUID’s Juvenile In Justice programs which include a Youth Ambassador Program and the first free juvenile record expungement clinic in Philadelphia. The clinic is a partnership with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE). The Youth Art Show is traveling regionally throughout 2014.
“Arts education plays an essential role in providing young people with tools to understand the world and to express themselves,” according to Rachael Zimmerman, President of INLIQUID. “By having them address issues related to both personal hardships and the justice system through art, we are able to learn from them and gain crucial insights from the perspectives of youth in our community, allowing us to better engage them and provide support.”
The Exhibit opens to the public on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 and runs thru April 30, 2014, 2:00 pm-5:00 pm Monday thru Friday.
About the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff
The Office of the Sheriff, City and County of Philadelphia is committed to serving and protecting the lives, property and rights of all within a framework of high ethical standards and professional conduct at all time. The Office is responsible to provide safety to all that enter Philadelphia courtrooms including, judges, juries, defendants, witnesses, courtroom personnel and the public. It is also responsible to manage all First Judicial Court ordered foreclosures of property - that includes mortgage and tax sales, in an ethical, honest, transparent and respectful manner while offering dignity to all involved in the procedure.
InLiquid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to creating opportunities and exposure for visual artists while serving as a free, online public hub for arts information in the Philadelphia area. By providing the public with immediate access to view the portfolios and credentials of over 280 artists and designers via the internet; through meaningful partnerships with other cultural organizations; through community-based activities and exhibitions; and through an extensive online body of timely art information, InLiquid brings to light the richness of our region’s art activity, broadens audiences, and heightens appreciation for all forms of visual culture.
New courts integrating First Judicial District juvenile delinquency and domestic cases are slated to open next June.
But at a budget hearing today before City Council, Sheriff Jewell Williams said he doesn’t have the manpower to staff the building – or even to adequately fulfill his office’s existing duties.
That’s why he’s asking for $4.1 million in additional funding to hire 100 additional deputies, along with several support staffers.
“If we have to deploy 40 people over to that building, it will not be enough to secure that building the way it should be,” Williams said.
“We can do it if we have to, but it’ll be a risk. I just hope the victim of that risk is not a citizen doing their civic duty or someone bringing their grandkid to visit a father who has an issue in the court.”
He said the Sheriff’s Office has reached a “critical point” and is in “desperate need” of additional manpower.
“I want to say on the record if you do not hire additional deputies, you’ll be opening up a courthouse next June with untrained professionals,” he said.
Williams pointed out that most violent courthouse incidents – such as the recent shooting in New Castle, Del. – have occurred in domestic courthouses, often in connection with cases involving visitation or child support.
Those are the very courthouses that are in Philadelphia currently staffed by private security firms.
“We have some courthouses where the front line is security personnel, not trained Sheriff’s deputies that go to school to look for certain types of weapons, certain kinds of weapons that disperse projectiles. We’re trained for that.”
Williams said private security workers aren’t held to the same standardized educational programs and retraining sessions as sheriff’s deputies.
“I would not recommend people who don’t have the training on how to recognize a bomb – I would not want to put those people in the courthouse,” he said.
“Because if you don’t have the training, you can actually cost someone’s life.”
He said his staff “are more trained that you could ever imagine,” so much so that he “couldn’t imagine paying someone $8 an hour from a security company” to do the same job.
Travel to train?
The training process for Sheriff’s deputies is another issue Williams raised – the only state-authorized program is currently offered through Penn State University in State College, a two to three-hour commute for most Philadelphians.
“One of the bigger problems with having that is when the Sheriff invites someone to join the Sheriff’s Office and the Sheriff informs them they have to go for 20 weeks to Penn State, many decline because it means 20 weeks away from their families,” he said.
He said he’s advocating for a change in those laws, but it would require action from the state.
“It’s very difficult because of the Republican power structure in Harrisburg but we’re working very hard to see if we can have that legislation amended,” he said.
Williams said he also needs more equipment for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have deputies who have bulletproof vests and the clock is ticking, it’s expiring,” he said.
“When you wear vests over a certain period of time, the Kevlar or bulletproof material on the vest gets weakened by your body sweat. They haven’t changed those vests in over five years so that’s another incident waiting to happen.”
He said he’d also like to have the staff to be able to confiscate all cell phones and cameras from each courthouse and return them when visitors leave.
“If I had the manpower, I would collect every camera and every phone that came inside that courthouse,” he said.
“But I have to choose between protection from the immediate threat or the threat that may happen later on and I have to use it to protect judges in that courthouse.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “That picture’s going somewhere else. That’s why we need additional deputies.”
Some Council members were critical that Philadelphia’s courts may simply not be run efficiently enough to best use Williams’ services.
Williams said prisoners are escorted to the courthouse an average of five times before they actually see a judge due to delays in proceedings.
He said the sojourn to and from jails alone is also time-consuming.
“There’s a delay bringing people down in morning on 95,” he said.
“If we had a dedicated highway lane, we could bring people faster down to the Criminal Justice Center and, likewise, get them back faster to the prison in the evening.”
He said the court system is clogged – and the backlog is only going to continue.
“The problem is the courts are overwhelmed,” he said.
“We’re getting more inmates every day. The juvenile courts [are] off the hook. There’s an increasing number of young people getting arrested and when look at the adult side, we have more multi-defendant cases which require more deputies in courtroom.”
Williams said the Sheriff’s Office is often left out of public discussions about public safety but plays a key role in protecting judges, witnesses and court staff, as well as assisting other law enforcement agencies in their duties.
He recounted how the Philadelphia Police had to request his office’s assistance during last week’s “flash mob” incident at 15th and Chestnut.
“We are an integral part of law enforcement but a lot of the time we get downplayed because we don’t have the manpower we deserve,” he said.
“Let me just say that again – we deserve to have more deputies to protect the public. Thank God we haven’t had any major incidents at our courthouses, but we are stretched very thin.”
He said in light of recent tragedies, it’s time to “get ready for the unknown.”
“I cannot say this enough,” he said.
“The Sheriff’s Office is in desperate need of those deputies. God forbid if we had a major incident, we could not help all the people we would want to help. And unless we get those additional bodies – I have to put this on public notice – it would be a very disastrous incident if we don’t have the bodies and the trained personnel.”
But as far as raising court fees to pay for his proposed staffing increase, Williams said that’s not a something he’s willing to fight for.
“I can tell you as a political maverick – you don’t talk fees to City Council,” he said. “I’ll be supportive, but I won’t be making the recommendations.”
IN HIS PROPOSED BUDGET, Mayor Nutter did not seek any additional money for the Sheriff's Department despite its expanding responsibilities, but Sheriff Jewell Williams on Tuesday asked City Council for a 30 percent increase.
That increase amounts to $4.1 million for 100 new deputies, a budget director, a computer-support employee and a clerical position. Williams said there were 230 deputies in 2008 compared with 194 now.
"We get downplayed because we don't get the manpower we deserved," Williams said. "We are stretched very thin."
Williams said more deputies are needed to staff the new multi-story Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets, set to open next year, and courts opening up in the Widener building.
"We are in dire need of additional deputies," Williams said. "God forbid we have a major incident [like Boston] and don't have trained personnel."
Meanwhile, Council President Darrell Clarke did not take a stand on Williams' request for more money, but said the security concerns were worth revisiting. Referring to City Hall, Clarke said, "This is probably one of the least-protected buildings in the city of Philadelphia."
No sweet love and kisses here. Cops woke up 22 fugitives this morning with hand shackles and a ride to jail.
In their 16th annual, predawn Valentine's Day warrant sweep, more than 50 cops fanned out across Philadelphia and its surrounding counties in search of about 300 fugitives wanted on warrants for offenses big and small. They caught 22 of them in the five-hour sweep and hauled them in to Family Court for processing.
"I'm an Afghanistan veteran. Thanks, America!" a shackled fugitive barked at reporters on his way into courthouse. Another shouted expletives at news photographers.
But Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams had little sympathy for the nabbed fugitives, who will get no roses or candy on this day celebrating sweethearts.
"They'll be eating cheese sandwiches today," Williams said. Fugitives "creep around like little rats so they don't get caught. But today, we have taken some bad guys off the street."
Williams noted that his office organizes the sweep every year on Valentine's Day, so "it would seem to me these people should know we're coming."
The fugitives caught were wanted for crimes including robbery, theft, driving under the influence, failure to pay child support and failure to appear in court, Williams said. Sheriff's deputies and other officers from Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties and Pennsylvania State Police troopers participated in the sweep.
Williams urged fugitives to turn themselves in. Tipsters who know of any fugitives' whereabouts can call deputies at (215) 686-3578.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - February 14, 2013 (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, along with other city and regional police agencies, rounded up dozens of suspects in a Valentine's Day warrant sweep.
The Action Cam was there early Thursday morning as police went to various homes in the city in search of the fugitives.
The suspects were wanted for everything from attempted murder, domestic violence, failure to pay child support and other crimes.
In all, nearly 300 people were targeted in the sweep.
The sweep is a Valentine's Day tradition for the sheriff's office, which has been conducted for 16 years.