Mission To ameliorate the psychological and emotional impact of homicides and reduce trauma-related reactive violence in the City of Chester, PA
In this issue: 
Chester Community Coalition
Quarterly Newsletter, Volume 1, Spring 2018
Street and Ward Map of the City of Chester from 1911

During 2017, gun homicides and accidents killed 15,549 Americans; out of that number, only 433 were killed in mass shootings.[1] 

Can you tell by the media coverage?

Gun violence in the US falls disproportionately on African-Americans: 13% of the US population, but more than half of gun homicide victims.[2] These deaths are overwhelmingly concentrated in disadvantaged communities and in black males.
Chester’s murder rate in 2017 was 85/100,000, compared with 3/100,000 for the rest of Delaware County.[3]

The Chester murder rate for young men 15-34 is roughly 385/100,000[4]-- higher than the average hostile death rate for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (315/100,000).[5]  

 If these rates continue into the future, roughly one out of every 13 boys in Chester will be killed before reaching age 35.[6]  

What other population sees that many young, otherwise healthy, people struck down in their youth?  

This is trauma. 

The shootings, the injuries, the murders, the constant stress of feeling unsafe wears on everyone, physically, emotionally and mentally.  It breaks people down.  It makes people angry.  It makes people sick.  It makes people poor-- literally: property values go down; businesses refuse to come into the community; there are fewer jobs; school quality is lower; medical costs are higher.

This is a grim picture, but there are solutions.  Solutions that have been tested.  Solutions that are proven.  Solutions that work in communities just like Chester. 
At the Chester Community Coalition, we are pursuing one of these solutions: healing the trauma of violence.  We plan to do this in three ways:
  1. Treating trauma with free group therapy for those who have been shot or have had a close family member murdered
  2. Interrupting violence interruption with crisis response teams
  3. Preventing violence through peer education on trauma
This newsletter provides insights on the roots of this complex issue as it pertains to the City of Chester.  It also provides content covering our work over the past year toward these goals, how we came to these goals and where we are headed next.   

Welcome, and thank you for your support!

- The Chester Community Coalition


[i2] Healing Communities in Crisis:  Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic.  2016.  Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and PICO National Network. P. 11
[3]  2017 count of offenses, assuming 2016 population.  (Final rates are not yet available)
[4] Fran Stier’s calculation from 2016 seriatim data
[5] Healing Communities in Crisis:  Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic.  2016.  Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and PICO National Network p 11.
[6] Roughly 7.4%

Program Planning and Design at the Chester Community Coalition
The Chester Community Coalition (CCC) was formed with a mission to directly address the pain caused by the murder and injury of people due to violence in the City of Chester.  It was founded with the belief that if everyone can understand and identify the trauma that such violence causes, everyone can begin to take steps to heal that trauma and eventually stem the cycle of violence that trauma creates.  

With that mission, a dedicated group of individuals applied for and received a planning grant from Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI).  The application was possible due to the sponsorship of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and provided for the Chester Community Coalition to explore and lay the foundation to practically achieve that mission.  This section covers our progress to date. 

Activities to Date
Over the 2017-2018 planning year, Chester Community Coalition (CCC) has developed a Board of 12 individuals reflecting Chester’s diversity.  The Board meets 5 times per year and has taken on issues related to the fiscal management of our project and providing guidance as we design our program.

In addition to the Board, a three-person Coordinating Committee and the program coordinator conduct the core work of building relationships, research and designing the program.  

The CCC has organized three focus groups with a total of 39 participants. Major themes included desiring experienced behavioral health providers with life experience and cultural competence, a need for trust and comfort with providers, a general lack of providers, and (for some) negative community or family perceptions of therapy.

Based on this feedback, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF CBT), creating a group of ambassadors for violence prevention education and creating a group of peer counselors (youth and adults) from Chester have emerged as our core areas of focus.  Our needs assessment concluded that we were complementing, rather than duplicating existing community assets.

The Coalition has actively participated in community meetings, events and outreach and logged over 500 community encounters since August 2017.  Additionally, we have created a resource guide that summarizes available Chester resources for victims of crime. 

Part of our focus has been to develop partnerships for referral with mental health and social service providers.  These partnerships are to ensure that the therapy and other resources we eventually provide are effectively promoted and accessed by the residents of Chester.   

If you are interested in becoming one of our partners or providing support for any of these efforts or, if you think you could benefit from receiving our services once they are intiatied, please contact us:


Our Coordinating Committee has performed the core work of building relationships, conducting research and designing the program.  This de facto committee is made up of Sr. Jean Rupertus (Program Manager), Sr. Virginia Spiegel (Accounts) and Fran Stier (Board secretary/treasurer), who supervise our half-time Program Coordinator, Alexia Clarke.  All Committee hours are voluntary and uncompensated. 

In addition to community outreach, coordination with other organizations, and developing and presenting materials on violence as a public health issue and on the Spectrum of Prevention, the Coordinating Committee has brought in Hopeworks ‘n Camden’s Youth Healing Team to make presentations to our Board and to the general public on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), their impact on adult behavior, and how to build resilience.
We are using our new social media presence on Facebook and Twitter to share information on events, local and national news and local mental health resources. Our website has been built by a local City of Chester firm and is expected to go live by the end of April 2018, pending approval by the CCC administrative team and the Board.

Lastly, free trainings on Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) (1) are in development in partnership with the Mayor’s Civic Advisory Council. Trainings are open to interested members of the community and are planned for May and June of 2018.

These trainings offer certification as MHFA counselors, building the capacity of City residents and workers to provide support, reduce reactive violence and improve quality of life in Chester.  

Participation from all kinds of stakeholders in the Chester community is essential to our success.  Chester residents, organizations and institutions are the experts on the City of Chester and the best approach to healing the trauma of violence in the city.  We welcome your participation as volunteers, Coalition members, through our social media, by calls or phone and know that we cannot effectively make a difference in Chester without you. 


Race and the Politics of Deception:  The Making of an American City.
Christopher Mele.  New York University Press 2017.

Christopher Mele explores how racial segregation and one-party control shaped Chester from the turn of the 20th century to the present.  As Mele acknowledges, his book draws on Ruling Suburbia:  John J McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania  by John McLarnon (now out of print).  His book makes painful reading.  We’d be interested in your memories and thoughts from these years.

John J. McClure took over from his father as head of Chester’s Republican party from his father in 1907 and served until his death in 1965.  Under him, Republican committee-men and ward-leaders controlled access to many jobs, to loans, and to admission to Fair Acres, the county nursing home.  They served on the school board, in charge of hiring teachers and principals for Chester’s (segregated) schools. 

In the wake of race riots in 1917, the party worked with local realtors, financial institutions, and title companies to devise racial covenants, restricting most residential sales in Chester to African-Americans to the area in Chester’s Eighth and Ninth Wards between Tilghman, Delaware, Reaney, and Ninth Streets.

Chester’s hospital maintained separate wards for black and white patients through the 1940’s.  Many restaurants did not serve blacks at that time, and movie theatres seated blacks separately. George Raymond, head of local chapter of the NAACP, and Rev. J. Pius Barbour, of Calvary Baptist Church worked to integrate Chester's public accommodation places through the decade.
Public housing in Chester was also originally segregated by race:  Lamokin Village, opened in 1942 in the Ninth Ward was for blacks.  William Penn and McCaffery, opened a year later, started all white.  William Penn was integrated in 1955-1956; McCaffery remained all-white into the 1970’s.

During the 1950’s through the 1970’s, white families from Chester moved to the suburbs-- to Aldan, Lansdowne, East Lansdowne, Clifton Heights and Upper Darby, while blacks were concentrated in Chester, Chester Township, Darby Township, and Yeadon.  State bank examiners and permitting and assessment boards, dominated by patronage employees, generally assured that bankers and realtors complied with racial steering.

In 1958, when George Raymond bought a house in Rutledge, the house burned down the day before his family was to move in, and town government tried to take over the land for a new town hall.  (The house was eventually rebuilt and Raymond eventually moved in).

When Horace and Sarah Baker bought a row house in the Delmar Village section of Folcroft in 1963, neighbors vandalized the home, and an angry, white mob blocked the Bakers from entering their house.  When, with the help of state troopers, the Bakers occupied their house, the neighbors issued a manifesto: “Perhaps this small borough can show this great nation that the federal government cannot force social integration on the population”.  Racial harassment continued until the Bakers sold their house in 1966.

The Chester school board redrew neighborhood boundaries and used selective bussing to keep elementary and junior high schools segregated through the early 1960’s, despite student strikes in 1946, pressure from the local chapter of the NAACP, and the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education’s decision in 1954.  The black-majority schools were mostly old, overcrowded wooden structures, with peeling paint, inadequate bathroom facilities, and hand-me-down books.

During the early 1960’s, Chester’s struggle for equality in education and employment earned it the nickname “the Birmingham of the North”.  Stanley Branche, who came to Chester in 1962 at age 28, was a key player in the struggle.  Branche initially joined the NAACP, then split from it, forming the Committee for Freedom Now (CFFN).  Protests of school segregation and hiring discrimination by downtown businesses met police beatings and arrests, which led to larger demonstrations.  Governor William Scranton ordered hearings on segregation in the public schools by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, which issued its recommendations to integrate the schools late in 1964.  The Chester school district appealed the findings, and few of the desegregation recommendations were acted on.

The Greater Chester Movement (GCM) was formed as an umbrella organization, to coordinate government, civil rights, and community groups, and Branche became its director of operations in 1965.  Information about Branche’s ties to McClure’s political machine emerged, arousing suspicions about his motives. McClure died in 1965, but the party machine structure continued.

1968 hearings of the PA Human Relations Committee found wide disparities in trash collection and public safety services provided to black and white neighborhoods.  “The failure of City Administration to take affirmative action to provide redress of complaint under the aegis of law assuring true equality of opportunity”, the Commission noted, “has been a major factor in the deepening of thus-far unchecked racial antipathies and the very apparent racial polarization in the City of Chester”.

In 1971, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission investigated bail kickbacks in the Delaware County criminal justice system, where young black men arrested for minor offenses like loitering were charged with more serious crimes requiring bail.  Bondsmen, district judges, and policemen all profited from the scheme.

In 1972, exposes in the Delaware County Times showed that little of the $12.4 million that GCM had received from the federal and state government had been spent for the benefit of Chester’s lower-income residents.  Nepotism, high-cost contracts and leases to politically-connected business people had drained most of the funds.

In 1979, Chester Mayor Nacrelli was convicted of accepting kickbacks from gamblers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) act; he served two years of a six-year sentence and quickly reassumed control of party operations upon his release. 

In 1986, Nacrelli helped broker Chester Solid Waste Associates’ collaboration with Westinghouse to build a huge trash-to-steam plant on Chester’s waterfront.  The Westinghouse trash-to-steam plant opened in 1991.  Over the next 4 years, four more waste-processing facilities owned by Chester Solid Waste Associates were approved to open in same site.  In 1996, Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL), a grassroots organization led by Zulene Mayfield, sued the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and the fifth waste permit application was withdrawn.

Covanta took over the site in 2005 – lax air standards put Chester residents at increased risk for asthma, cancer, and fatal strokes and heart attacks.
Harrah’s Chester (2007), the Warf at Rivertown, and the Talen Energy Station and Talen Energy Stadium (2010), all along Chester’s waterfront, have done little to expand Chester’s tax base or revitalize the central business district.

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