By Tim Whitaker
Education: G.E.D., 1980.
Public housing project: Tasker Street Housing Project, Schuylkill Falls.
Years he lived there: 1959-1964.
How he remembers it: "I don't remember much about my days at the Tasker projects because I was too little and only there a year. But I do remember Schuylkill Falls. It was close-knit. We were all in the struggle together. One neighbor had a rowboat in the front yard. He'd fill it up with water and put apples in there and we could come by and get one. There were dance parties, and they were fun. It was integrated then, more white than black, but mixed. It was a place where you lived for a while to get a helping hand. A lot of men came back from the military and got a place there to get a start. There were seven of us. My mom was a single parent--she was a saint. I do remember being ashamed of having to use food stamps. I think we used them when I was in, like, third grade to about fifth grade. I used to fight my brothers and sisters to not have to go to the store with that 'funny money.' The way I felt about that I've come to realize was what gave me my drive. I wanted to be like everybody else. I didn't like being handed something, or being known as the poor family. When you moved out of the projects, you had a big party and everybody came and felt good for you. It was like graduation. When we moved, it was just down the block, but we were out of the projects. Funny thing--you were happy when you got accepted for public housing and happy when you made it out. I make my living developing properties now, and I've been developing the commercial strip on Ridge Avenue just down from the projects where I lived. Because they're gone now, good things can happen to the neighborhood. It's ironic. People tell me I have a powerful story. I never think about it that way. When you're poor you live with the basics, so kindness becomes everything. Money was always something that was going to happen in the future. Kindness was what you had to buy things with in the moment."
Occupation: Tenor saxophonist.
Education: Benjamin Franklin High School.
Public housing project: Richard Allen Homes.
Years he lived there: 1941-1954.
How he remembers it: "In my day Richard Allen was the place to live. My new CD is called Boppin' Round the Center, and it's a tribute to the old rec center that used to be the heart of Richard Allen. It's about how we used to do a dance called the bop. We thought we were rich. What did we know? Cosby lived down from me, and I lived in a two-bedroom place, just like him. It was alive back then. Coltrane jammed there, and Benny Golson. Lee Morgan hung there all the time. This was before those guys became icons. 'Spanky' DeBrest lived there. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers cut a song on an album titled 'Cranky Spanky' in his honor. It was like we were around royalty. We went to dances at the center, we saw movies there. I saw my first black movie there! When someone would go to the bathroom they'd trip over the cord and the movie would go off and everybody would boo and groan. One day a week Brother Johnny Wilson would come there and give us some religion. There was basketball, pingpong. If you boxed, you went to the Slaughterhouse at Hutchison and Girard. They took no prisoners in that boxing ring. I'm tellin' you, the projects were beautiful then. There were flowers everywhere. They made pretty postcards of it all."
Occupation: President, Zoe Rose Development and Training; publisher, Proud Neighbor magazine
Education: Olney High School, 1969; B.A., Temple University, 1982; M.A., New Hampshire University, 1984.
Public housing project: Richard Allen Homes.
Years she lived there: 1953-1966.
How she remembers it: "There were 10 of us altogether living there. My mother was very strict. We couldn't go past the stoop after a certain hour. I remember on the weekends we would all be put to work. We'd scrub the steps, sweep, clean and clean everything. We formed intensely strong relationships. My best friend--we called her 'Poochie'--we're still close. I had five girlfriends who were like sisters, and I already had this really big family. There was a strong sense of, 'This is our place, and nobody's going to do anything to take it away from us.' It was all about belonging. The gang warfare was a misplaced outgrowth of that. They were saying, 'This is our turf and you may not even step on it.' It was wrong, but you could see where it came from."
PW's Summer Guide 2014