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Chester Community Coalition has a new website!

Click here to check it out.  We’re so grateful to Mary Hunt, website designer volunteer from CatchAFire, a website that matches worldwide volunteers to nonprofit needs, and to The Philadelphia Foundation, who sponsor Delaware Valley nonprofits’ subscription fees to CatchAFire. 

Reopening Survey

At Chester Community Coalition, our first priority is the health, safety, and well-being of our clients, staff, their loved ones, and the community-at-large. We've drafted a survey to help us better understand the perspectives of our community so we can provide adequate support through these uncertain times.
This survey is brief and anonymous.  Find it here, https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7DY82D2.  
 

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
Chester Community Coalition owes its start to the guidance of The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and they have continued to be major supporters.  Sr. Betsy Goodwin, the Order’s Director of Sponsorship, was kind enough to contribute a piece, below, on the history of the Sisters’ involvement.

Chester Community Coalition and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia

As we struggle with the new norms of a pandemic, it is interesting to note that it was just prior to the pandemic of 1918—while World War I was underway—that the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia first arrived in the city of Chester, Pennsylvania.  They had responded to an invitation to staff the newly established Resurrection Parish School. They remained at the school until it closed due to low enrollment in 1992.
 

First Grade at the Resurrection Parrish School, 9th and Highland.  (Picture by AV Knott)
Later in the 1990s and early 2000’s, seeds of new ministries were planted with a needs assessment conducted by Sr. Mary Peter Kerner that eventually led to the opening of Anna’s Place—a hospitality center housed in the former Immaculate Heart of Mary School. In addition, Drexel Neumann Academy now located in the St. Katherine Drexel Parish, was opened. Drexel Neumann Academy is a collaborative effort between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, St. Katherine Drexel Parish, the Sisters of St. Francis, and Neumann University.

The sisters’ mission, our history in Chester, and our concern for the people are the underlying reasons for our continued presence here.  We also have a great love for this historical city which is locating fairly close to the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

The newest undertaking of our sisters in Chester is the Chester Community Coalition. This mission began in 2016 when Sister Jean Rupertus became aware that Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI, now known as CommonSpirit Health), had identified nonviolence as a top priority for its Mission and Ministry Fund. Since she has long been an advocate for nonviolence and for the people of Chester, Sister Jean pursued a grant on behalf of the Sisters of St. Francis. Funding is limited to organizations with a special relationship with CHI, a national healthcare system with which the sisters share a very close relationship.

The sisters were awarded a design grant, which enabled a yearlong planning process including the recruitment of a program director, Alexia Clarke.  This in turn allowed for the development of a three- year implementation grant to continue the work of Ms. Fran Stier, Sr. Jean, and Alexia Clarke. During the planning phase, the Sisters of St. Francis and their finance and human resources staff provided the support needed for operations. In 2017, a full 3-year implementation grant was received for the work of healing survivors of gun violence. The Chester Community Coalition (CCC) was established in 2018 with the mission to heal the psychological and emotional impact of homicides and reduce trauma-related violence in the city of Chester. Its community-based governing board oversees the programs and planning.
Sr. Jean Rupertus and Alexia Clarke, Chester Community Coalition.  (Picture by Andrea Cipriani)
So, why would the sisters do this…use their own resources, tap into the resources of Catholic Health Initiatives, commission Sister Jean to do this work, and free up staff to provide the necessary support? Our mission is to live the Gospel and, in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, to live as “sister to one another and to all creation.” Our presence in Chester and our advocacy for nonviolence are ways in which we express “living as sister to one another.” More pointedly, in 2019 our 400+ sisters consented to take a corporate stand against gun violence. Our support of the work of the Chester Community Coalition is one way that we embody that commitment. 

The witness of different organizations that are aligned in their missions—not competing with one another but embracing and supporting one another for a common good—is a beautiful and inspiring thing to behold. The relationship between the Chester Community Coalition, the Sisters of St. Francis, and CommonSpirit Health exemplifies that beauty and commitment to one another.
Good News From Chester:  August 2020
From the Brother You Matter Chester Peace Walk, June 2020
C-Pride has V-Pryde:  Making A Change Group is launching a Violence Prevention Initiative this summer to encourage youth to focus on fun recreational activities in a safe way. Our new initiative is called VPRYDE, which stands for Violence-Prevention-Recreation-Youth-Development-Engagement Initiative. The premise is centered around keeping youth engaged in recreational activities to prevent them from going down the path that could potentially lead toward a life of violence.
Dr. Monica Taylor, of Delaware County Council with a reminder that filling out the 2020 census is safe, easy, and IMPORTANT.  From the Foundation for Delaware County.

My Mask Protects You; Your Mask Protects Me
Chester City Food Distribution
Andre Morales Memorial Scholarship
 
Chester-Upland Youth Soccer
Chester Upland Youth Soccer provides free after-school soccer training, nutrition education and mentorship at seven elementary schools each fall and spring. For more information or to register a child, please visit https://cuys.org/program-overview

Chester History, Structural Racism, and Helping to Heal

John J. McClure
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, so African-Americans could only buy or rent in the small area in Chester’s Eighth and Ninth Wards between Tilghman, Delaware, Reaney, and Ninth Streets (shown in orange in the map below).
 
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. 

Residential segregation
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.  (When three black families moved into McCaffery in 1957, their homes were vandalized and Chester Housing Authority officials were threatened.  Police refused to provide protection).

In 1958, when George Raymond, head of the Chester NAACP, 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.
Folcroft 8/30/1963:  Youngsters jeer as moving men tote possessions of the Horace Baker family up the steps of their new home.
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.
11/14/1963, Chester, PA.  A woman civil rights picket is hauled away after protesting about a local school.
Chester:  The Birmingham of the North
James Farmer, National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality, called Chester “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 in 1964 met police beatings and arrests, which led to larger demonstrations.
State police subdue rioter at 3rd and Pennell, Chester, April 1964
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.

After McClure’s death

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.
John Nacrelli
 
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.
Zulene Mayfield
 
Covanta took over the incinerator 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.

Chester’s Resilience

Over more than a century, structural racism –segregated housing, segregated schools, and a corrupt political machine—all drained resources from Chester.   But the community is resilient and has to created the collaborative institutional framework it needs to heal.

In 1989, four women – Barbara Muhammed, Ernestine Tilghman, Ella Thompson and Yvonne Carrington – filed a lawsuit against the Chester Housing Authority for deplorable conditions under which many residents lived. That suit, later known as Velez v. Cisneros, resulted in the CHA being taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. When HUD failed to make needed changes, they turned the CHA over to federal court judge Norma L. Shapiro.

The Will Trippley Youth Development Foundation, started in memory of Will Trippley by his family and friends, provides soccer training and mentoring to Chester Children, and also runs Camp Encouragement for children who have lost a loved one through death, divorce and imprisonment.

The Community Liaison Office of City Hall has secured funding for The Amachi Program, providing mentoring for children of incarcerated parents.  (Chester Community Coalition is providing training on trauma-informed methods).
The Ministerial Fellowship of Chester and Vicinity has started the Chester Peace Initiative (CPI) in cooperation with Temple University and the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency.  CPI relies on the Cure Violence model to bring public health insights to combat violence.  CPI will work closely with the Chester Community Coalition.

The Chester Community Coalition (CCC) provides trauma-informed services to families where a loved one has been assaulted or murdered, to reduce retaliatory violence.  CCC partners with the Chester-Upland Public Schools and Chester’s Boys and Girls Club to support bereaved children.  CCC is also in discussions with Crozer-Chester Medical Center to provide behavioral health services to victims of violent injury, to treat their psychological trauma as their physical wounds heal.

* This history draws heavily from Race and the Politics of Deception:  The Making of an American City by Christopher Mele (2017) and from Ruling Suburbia:  John J. McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania by John McLarnon III.

Your support allows us to offer participant families safe, door to door transportation (via Lyft), and supper, shared with counselors and volunteers. Donations pay for extra therapists’ time in the schools and in community organizations. Donations support community outreach.

Violence is contagious; trauma is its vector. Helping more people understand the effects of trauma – flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping and concentrating, self-medication with drugs and alcohol – will reduce violence.


For those who prefer to donate by check, please make check out to “Urban Affairs Coalition, Chester Community Coalition”, and mail to:

Urban Affairs Coalition 
Attn. Lee Wall
Suite 700
1207 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA  19107

CONTACT US
        
 703 Central Ave. 
Chester, PA 19013
 (610) 368-0714
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