In Philly, the word “Kensington” means crime, drugs and poverty. In other words: trash. The neighborhood is routinely described as “teeming with drugs and prostitution” by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The neighborhood’s rep got even worse last year when the Kensington Strangler terrorized residents for more than three months. By the time a DNA hit in the statewide system led to the arrest of 22-year-old Antonio Rodriguez in January, three women were dead.
Now, it’s been three months since the arrest. Reporters and cameras are long gone. The extra police presence, which many residents argue never existed to begin with, is gone, too.
“Same old shit,” says 40-year-old Karen Quick over a beer at a recent get-together of old friends who grew up in Kensington before the word itself became a curse.
Same old shit means that the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street is still one of the city’s most notorious open-air drug markets and prostitutes strolling the seedy strip beneath the El are still regularly beaten, choked and raped.
“You won’t hear about it in the news but people are dying down here every day,” says “original Kenzo” Ericka Harris-Dougherty, 39, at the get-together at Crazy Leprechaun, a bar in Port Richmond. “But [the problem’s not] Kensington—it’s the people coming down here for the drugs.”
“When we grew up we took pride in our streets and neighborhood. Next thing you know drug dealers came here and pushed us out,” adds Joan Samacicia, 39. “I had three kids. I had to move because I found [drug paraphernalia] in our backyard.”
It’s a common story. These days there’s a sort of Kenzo diaspora.
“Everyone lives everywhere,” she says.
One thing has changed in the wake of the Strangler: An emerging Kenzo Pride movement, fueled by self-declared original Kenzos is taking hold. They say they won’t let their self-respect—or memories—die along with the neighborhood.
It seems strange that a renaissance of Kensington pride is the direct result of being terrorized by a serial killer, but that’s how it happened.
Back in January, during the height of the search for the Strangler, PW spotlighted a Facebook group called “Stop the Kensington Strangler—before he catches someone you love.” Started by a well-known charismatic neighborhood guy named Richie Antipuna, the group became a sounding board for frustration with a perceived lack of effort to catch the killer and the feeling that the tragedy regularly going down in Kensington would not be tolerated anywhere else in the city. Then the group was mysteriously shut down.
So last month, at the urging of friends, Antipuna started a new group called “Kenzo Pride.”
With more than 2,800 members and growing daily, the group’s wall is a digital high school reunion, party line and repository for Kenzo in-jokes: A Kenzo dustpan is a ripped-up cereal box; Kenzo shrimp are hard pretzels dipped in ketchup; and so on.
Antipuna says the Facebook group is just the beginning of the Kensington Pride movement, which he’s promoting from all angles: Along with his creative partner, Heather Barton, Antipuna hosts The Richie Antipuna Show, a hyperlocal video magazine produced in partnership with Woodshop Films. He also hosts Live Talk with Richie Antipuna on BlogTalk Radio online. Antipuna says he’s even in talks to run for City Council on the Green Party ticket. He’s also taking it upon himself to establish April 22 as official Kensington Pride Day—chosen as a reference to the retro phrase scribbled in high school yearbooks: “You’re 2 good 2 be 4-gotten.”
“Kensington isn’t a place [anymore],” muses Antipuna. “It’s a state of mind.”
“Most of the people in Kenzo Pride don’t live in Kensington anymore,” concedes Antipuna, who grew up at A Street and Allegheny Avenue but lives in Port Richmond with his wife and children. “They live in Jersey, the Far Northeast, but they’re still hanging on to their Kenzo Pride. That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s a recent Saturday night and the first official Kenzo Pride event is going down at the Crazy Leprechaun, owned by Antipuna in the past and now run by another “original Kenzo.”
Inside, young men in Phillies caps smile and exchange tough-guy headlock hugs. DJ Too Tuff—an internationally renowned turntablist who grew up in Kensington—pumps old-school hip-hop to a crowd of 60 or so people.
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