By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Neighbors on a block in Southwest Philadelphia celebrated the completion of a months long effort that transformed a blighted wall into a source of community pride.
A dedication was held on Monday afternoon.
For years, the concrete wall along 900 block of South Paxon Street was used an illegal dumping ground.
“It was graffiti written, there was trash, there were old beds,” says Salima Pace, the block captain on Paxon. She says she got fed up with the sight of old mattresses just a few feet from her home. So when neighbor Valerie Gay, who happens to be the executive director of Art Sanctuary, finished transforming a cinder block wall outside her home at Paxon and Warrington into a colorful mosaic, Pace says she was inspired.
“I said hey, how great what that be to turn what you did at that corner to this wall here,” says Pace.
With Gay’s help, they launched ROW HOMe, which is short for Reclaim Our Wall: Helping Ourselves Modify. They secured $2,500 Leeway Foundation art and change grant and used the money to buy paint and grout. They then got the community to donate old dishes, ceramics and mirrors and then put the neighbors to work.
“After a year, it came to light,” says Pace.
They held a community clean up last spring where 42 neighbors came out to help. The residents met and agreed on a design. Then for months, Gay worked with 15-year-old resident, Rasheen, who lead the charge, slowing putting the design in place. Then another community effort last week, drawing residents to put the final touches on the new Paxon Street Peace Wall — part mural, part mosaic.
“My hand print is up there,” says Miss Betty, who lives on Paxon and helped paint the wall.
“It’s beautiful, it’s a big change,” she says, noting she used to take pictures of the trash and old mattresses that used to sit against the wall. “I hope it stays this way.”
Residents say no one has tagged the wall or dumped trash in the area since the community began the wall project in April.
“The goal was to give the community ownership,” says Pace, “so they would want to keep it this way.”
The plan appears to be working.
“Somebody — came around here one day, and they were like — who did that and we were like — we did,” says Sarah Sydeny, a longtime resident of South Paxon Street. She also helped paint the wall and says, it feels like a part of her own home.
“Knowing that you put your hands in the clay that helped build this — that’s what you love,” she says.
Pace says the next step is to tackle abandoned blighted properties on Paxon. Then, they’ll work on building a community park.
“Now when I call the city, they respond,” says Pace, “they know the people on this block– they care.”