The “Re/member Black Philadelphia” project aims to investigate the fraught past, present, and future of Black Philadelphia and the increasingly “endangered spaces” of Black social and cultural practice against the backdrop of the systematic displacement of longtime Black residents. The project consisted of working together with a team of ethnographers, media makers, educators, and historians to delve into the history of Black Philadelphia. The work on this investigation consisted of interviewing members of Black Philadelphia’s community, filmmaking, oral history techniques, as well as learning how to use geospatial and 3D immersive technologies in order to delve into exploring the significant social and cultural sites around Philadelphia as well as hear the stories of those who inhabit it. The project is ongoing and will continue to study and research the rich history that Black Philadelphia possesses and to help teach the lived realities of marginalized populations and spaces.
Through this research experience, I had the honor of talking to many native and long-time residents of Philadelphia and hear them tell the stories that shaped them into who they are today. They told stories of their childhoods, their families, their pasts, their presents, and what they saw for their futures. Through speaking with them, I also learned about how these residents of Black Philadelphia view the changes that have been brought upon their communities. I heard them communicate their grievances for spaces they had grown up in be taken over by gentrification and actions such as the expansion of University City. I learned through this project that there exist many unheard voices that have been silenced or disregarded in Black Philadelphia that deserve and need to be heard.
Since coming to Penn, I knew one thing I wanted to do was engage in the community in some capacity where I felt like I was contributing to something that was bigger than myself. In terms of this goal, this project was an experience that was everything I could have asked for and more. Not only was I able to engage with members of the Black Philadelphia community, I additionally had the opportunity to learn new skills related to filming, editing, and other aspects of video production, improve my skills in the Adobe Creative Cloud, learn how to use geospatial and 3D immersive technologies, and how to conduct ethnographic research through the collection of oral histories with interviews. My educational experience of having taken some sociology, law, and social change classes was elevated with my ability to see several of the concepts discussed in class as a reality in many spaces in Philadelphia. I have truly loved the way this project has helped my Penn experience expand outside of Penn’s walls.