For those who pay attention to history, it wouldn’t surprise you that another black man was almost written out of it.
Black heroes, throughout time, have always been emasculated and shrunken to benefit the larger than life White savior, and the same is true for the present-day in Philadelphia, a city with a dark history of racism and racial insensitivity, which manifest itself in ways both subtle and shocking.
What was the mainstream media’s chance to tell the story of a proud Black Philadelphian who, after traveling the country, returned to his neighborhood to turn a long-standing dilapidated park into a five-star community space, became the tall tale of a White male hero leveraging his resources and privilege to advance a somewhat stalled plan.
Mr. Jahmall Crandall, a former regional sales manager for a national hotel chain, is the black man I speak of. And his counterpart in this story is Philadelphia Eagles Linebacker, Mr. Connor Barwin, who was profiled by EPSN in relation to the park renovation as “making a difference.”
“The media coverage was unfair,” said Mr. Crandall, speaking exclusively to Techbook Online. “They tried to… well, they overshadowed me.”
Mr. Crandall got the vision for the park after returning to Philadelphia in 2009 and seeing the basketball court on 20th & Tasker in the same condition it was in when he played there in the early 90’s.
He said no one had expressed interested in doing anything with it, yet when he announced his plans, he was met with quasi-jealousy.
“People came out the wood works saying they had a similar vision,” he said, “but no one spoke up prior.”
It was both Mr. Crandall’s gravitas and timing – and he openly admits the latter: “timing had a lot to do with it” – that got steam behind the more than quarter-million dollar project.
As time is concerned, the present-day sees two fairly young black men representing the area where the park is situated: Mr. Jordan Harris, a State Representative; and Mr. Kenyatta Johnson – a childhood associate of Mr. Crandall – a City Councilman.
“They are, and were more approachable,” said Mr. Crandall, in a slight critique of Ms. Anne Verna, the elderly White woman who held the council seat before Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Harris announced his run for office in 2012, and that’s when Mr. Crandall said plans actually “kicked off.”
“Jordan sold me on why he was good for the 186th District, and I sold him on my vision for the basketball court.”
It was Mr. Harris that introduced him to Mr. Jeffrey Tubbs, a do-gooder developer who remained loyal and steadfast throughout the project, even when it became, as Mr. Crandall describes, “a media circus.”
When I first met Mr. Crandall and Mr. Tubbs, it was the winter of 2013 and they had organized a clean-up effort for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.
At that time, Mr. Tubbs had been working on the project for about 6 months, meeting with Mr. Crandall – who grew up on Mountain Street in South Philadelphia and “worked heavily with Ruckers Park in New York City – for “two hours” every Monday.
The first politico to support the duo financially was Mr. Johnson, who initially invested $75K from his budget, and later another $25K.
Mr. Crandall thinks the councilman’s generosity was attributed, in part, to the pride of seeing someone from the community with a real plan to improve it.
Other donations and fundraising efforts included a video for a Kickstarter page in which I both starred in and provide substantial creative input on; $25K from a foundation; more than a $100K worth of work from the Philadelphia Water Department; and the concert organized by Mr. Barwin, which raised – after Mr. Barwin matched donations – nearly $200K.
“The money he bought in was a big deal,” said Mr. Crandall, but he was the last one to invest.”
The struggle to be seen as a leader in the project he organized wasn’t the only challenge for the founder of I AM SP – Mr. Crandall claims the mayor acknowledged him as a volunteer on a press release – he initially faced opposition in the form a community member spreading misinformation, exacerbating many residents’ fear about gentrification and displacement.
“The biggest challenge was maintaining my credibility; there was a lot of negativity,” he said, informing me that a bitter community resident was circulating flyers in an effort to discredit him. “I had to show concerned residents the letter (of intent) and what the plans were to calm them down.”
Mr. Crandall overcame that challenge and the project is, for the most part, completed. He sighed of relief when I asked him about the journey, portraying, just in a breath, a tired yet inspired man who knows he has more to do.
The park was in full use by residents when I stopped by to take pictures.
What’s left to do? According to Mr. Crandall, he still needs to work on getting big belly trash cans; a volunteer team to maintain cleanliness; meeting with the 17th Police District to discuss a patrolling schedule and installing security cameras.
For the moment, however, Mr. Crandall prefers to continue his reflection, as this nearly three year journey taught him two key things: never take anything for greater and “have my affairs in order so that this type of overshadowing never happens again.”
* Tune into 900amWURD or 900amWURD.com every Friday evening during the 6 o’clock hour to hear me relive #TheWeekThatWas*
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Photo: Residents playing basketball in the newly renovated Ralph Brooks Tot Lot./C. Norris – ©2015