Monday, May 14, 2012

My Nazareth: Kensington Part I

I was always taken back and sometimes slightly offended by the reaction of someone from another country when ever I would describe where I was from back in the states. Not that they were disgusted but the fact they didn't believe places of poverty, violence, and pure darkness existed in the states. That the mighty rich and powerful United States had also been a victim of sin and its destructive ways. You don't understand how we are perceived until you have lived away from the states. For most outsiders we are either the all perfect "Christian" nation or Satan himself. I never depicted to my friends that the US was a horrible place but that there were truly suffering people were I was from. That my neighborhood still today is one of the poorest, deprived, unsafe places in the country. We need Jesus as much as they do. But I didn't want to say it to prove how tough I was but to prove how mighty God is. That even in a seemingly hopeless situation, God is the difference between true purpose and a meaningless life. Jesus was thought of as lowly and insignificant because He was known as a "Nazarene." As Nathanael famously said hearing of His arrival from Phillip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"(John 1:46) I want to tell you of my home, my Nazareth.

Kensington Ave.
Kensington is famously known for the 1976 film "Rocky". It was where the "Italian Stallion" lived in the movie. Other films have used our neighborhood in part because of its rugged, blue collar, stereo typical inner city rough look. Unfortunately, the stories of hope are as unimaginable as a Hollywood script. The blue line elevated train runs right through Kensington as it's iconic "click clack", and screeching breaks occupancies the soundtrack of a busy neighborhood in Philly. Under the train is a network of shops with an unusual number of Pawn shops and bars.There are no parks for kids to play in. There are a few plots of land with monkey bars and slides. Our neighborhood library is known as "needle park," a frequent drug pusher and user spot. The landscape is made of mostly of old abandon factory buildings, crumbling row homes, and empty lots where a business or homes used to be. On every street corner there is either a Chinese kitchen, Pizzeria, or Dominican mini-mart. It is home to a large population of Irish Americans, Hispanic Americans, mainly Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, African Americans, Italian Americans, and Polish Americans.
One of the countless abandon homes.
The early mornings is the quietest, as people rush to work and parents rush their kids to school. The homeless population have to get up off the streets and start their day, along with the prostitutes, who for the most part are done at that time of the day. As the afternoon sets in the streets become busy, especially Frankford, Allegheny and Kensington Avenues. This is also when the drug dealers wake up and post up on their corners like a Buckingham palace guard. To be fair there are plenty of honest people working their small businesses, shops, or booths. By night time Kensington becomes a different place of activity. The ambulance and cop cars probably have driven a divot into the streets as much as they frequent this neighborhood. The darkness does not invite the best of what our neighborhood has to offer. The sirens become more frequent and the helicopters hover over the sky like mosquitoes on a hot summer night. The intersection of Kensington and Somerset was number one in a list of the cities' top ten recreational drug corners according to a 2007 article in Philadelphia Weekly.[1] Philadelphia in general has 25% of its population living below poverty level and Kensington is at 50%.[2] The local news stations always have crime story and every other day Kensington is involved. In 2011 Philadelphia had the undesirable honor of once again being the most dangerous "big city"(over 1 million people) in the country. A large percentage of these crimes done in the North Philly section, which would include most parts of Kensington.[3] Right now you might be saying, "Can anything good come from Kensington?"

Police investigate a fatal shooting of four-year-old boy in Kensington.[4]

Part II of this three part blog will be coming soon as I look into what Kensington once was and I explore what is God's heart in restoring what was once lost, in my personal experience and point of view.