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In North Philadelphia, 'The Best And Worst Of The City'


After talking with us at the mosque site, Ahmad Nuruddin gave us a ride to the corner of Broad and Cecil B. Moore streets right in front of the Temple University Bookstore where community activist and yesterday's Barbershop guest Malcolm Kenyatta offered to take us on a walking tour of his North Philly neighborhood.

He had described it as the best and worst of the city. And when we got there, I wondered why. There were plenty of people, lots of shops, a lot going on. So I asked Malcolm why he wanted to meet there.

MALCOLM KENYATTA: Philadelphia is not only a city of neighborhoods. I think Philadelphia in a lot of cases is a city of blocks. We're right now still very close to the university. So you do see, you know, some stores, some shops...

MARTIN: Lots of stores, shops, cleaners...

KENYATTA: ...A Subway, some other things. Now, as we walk...

MARTIN: ...Lots of sandwiches and lots of pizza.

KENYATTA: Yeah. People in Philly like to eat.

MARTIN: Very critical to college life.

KENYATTA: So as we get past 16th Street here in a second, you're going to see it completely change. It's going to keep...

MARTIN: Yeah. I see vacant lots here. I see a lot of the weeds, and I see some boarded up buildings which used to be a dollar store. It's all boarded up, and I see some, you know, bricked up windows.

KENYATTA: And so we are getting - the further we walk down, we're getting further...

MARTIN: Another vacant lot.

KENYATTA: ...And further away from the Temple area...


KENYATTA: And more toward, you know, the long term...

MARTIN: A lot of vacant lots here. There's a three kind of apartment houses that seem really new - or they have new facades anyway...

KENYATTA: Completely new.

MARTIN: ...And right next to them a beauty salon, a Chinese food restaurant takeout spot with the shutters completely down.

KENYATTA: And that is the conundrum that we have to figure out. Philadelphia, I mean - we're hosting the DNC. We just had the pope here - first-world heritage city in North America. So all these great things that are happening but that progress is only hitting people in pockets.

MARTIN: We turned down a narrow side street with a hodgepodge of rundown row houses and ones with signs put up by management companies. A group of kids were playing basketball on a court nearby.

Do you feel that either party is talking about the cities in a specific way - what the cities are for, what the city should do and specific ways to make the cities kind of engines of opportunity or to create opportunity that's more widely shared?

KENYATTA: No. In terms of a cohesive plan for this is what we're going to do for our American cities, no, I haven't seen that.

MARTIN: And why is that? Why not?

KENYATTA: And we need it. Cities have, A, when you think urban, a lot of times that it becomes code for black (laughter). And when you talk about investment, a lot of times people think that's code for giving these poor, lazy black people something they don't deserve or haven't earned.

And the fact of the matter is there's a moral argument to be made for making sure we have full or close to full employment. There's a moral argument to be made...

MARTIN: A moral argument.

KENYATTA: ...To make sure that we, you know - that people aren't living on the street. But there's also an economic argument. And I think that if we raise the minimum wage, we would almost instantly change some of the people's lives in this area.

MARTIN: With that, we started walking back to the bookstore - tour complete. Just kidding because you know we had to stop at a barbershop. And there were many, so we picked Mecca Unisex Salon run by Henry Collins.

He was doing some very fine straight razor work on a customer when we walked in. But once he set that down, I asked Collins how he feels about his city hosting the Democrats.

HENRY COLLINS: It'll put a spotlight on the city, so hopefully we can be a good host and welcome them in with, like, hospitality, like hotels and restaurants and - you know, they can experience the city of brotherly love.

MARTIN: Are people excited about it? Are they even talking about it here?

COLLINS: Well, they talk about it. They got different views as far as their viewpoint on who they feel should win as far as between Hillary and Trump. And the consensus is they want Hillary to win.

MARTIN: How come?

COLLINS: Because many people in the community feel that Bill stood up more so for the community compared to Bush and all that. So they look at them as one. Like if Hillary get into office, Bill's in the office. And Bill can help guide policy behind the scenes in the bedroom, like, Bill what you think about the NASA security adviser trying to do this? He got experience. Oh, they playing tricks on you. Don't do it. You know, I mean, it's like having two presidents in one, and you get the best of both worlds.

MARTIN: Has politics been a big topic in the shop this year?

COLLINS: It's always a big topic.

MARTIN: What are people talking about today? What's on - what's the topic today?

COLLINS: Today's topic?


COLLINS: There's a big fight this - coming on this weekend. Terence Crawford against a guy named Postol. And they the top guys in the 140 division so they was trying to debate on who's going to win.

MARTIN: In case you missed it, Crawford totally crushed Postol. I guess we still have to wait until November to see who wins the ultimate title - president of the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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