$9 million grant to ACANA celebrated at Nov. 26 groundbreaking
State Rep. Jordan Harris, PA House Democratic whip was joined by PA House Democratic Caucus Leader Joanna Mc Clinton, and other city and local officials on Friday, November 26 in presenting a $9 million check to the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA) for the development of Africatown in Southwest Philadelphia. The happy occasion took place at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, November 26th at 5530 Chester Avenue.
“This is city, state, federal, and private partners working collaboratively with a vision, and that vision is the Africatown project,” said Rep.Harris, who represents a part of Southwest Philly that Africatown will run through.
Africatown Philadelphia is a major investment built upon the concept that African and Caribbean immigrants have made great contributions to the development of several vibrant commercial corridors in the area. The goal of Africatown also includes spurring economic development, creating jobs, increasing business ownership among residents of the community, and decreasing poverty in one of the most economically depressed communities in Philadelphia, according to the House Democratic spokesperson.
(There are several earlier versions of “Africatown” in places like Seattle OR and Mobile AL with the same objectives of improving the lives and preserving the cultures of African immigrants).
The total of $9m in grants was put together by the City’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program ( RACP). The grants are administered by the Philadelphia Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects.
African town will designate the overall area in Southwest Philadelphia from Baltimore Avenue and
S. 47th Street to S. 74th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard. It will also feature development of the Woodland Avenue commercial corridor already home to many African and Caribbean shops and businesses. A permanent arch banner will be erected across Woodland Avenue at about 60th Street to commemorate its portion of the Africatown envelopment.
ACANA, a nonprofit that has provided social and legal support for African immigrants in Philly since the early 2000s, will use the funds to develop commercial and residential properties in a portion of Southwest Philly that has become home to many Philadelphians born in Africa.
The plans for Africatown are numerous. There’s a $16 million headquarters in the works that will house a community center, banquet hall, and health center; the imminent acquisition of an existing supermarket.
A 2018 Pew Trusts study shows that Africans were the fastest growing group of immigrants in the city between 2000 and 2016, a period where African immigrants in Southwest Philly tripled in number — that still feels like a long time coming to those leading the charge.
“It’s been Africatown since almost 2005. It’s just now being branded,” Voffee Jabateh, CEO of ACANA, told Axios, speaking of the decades of community support and building that took place prior to ACANA’s receiving the state grant.
Rep. Harris went to high school in Southwest Philly and recalled seeing the growth and efforts of the African immigrant community as he was growing up. “What you haven’t seen was the same recognition by government in the area,” he said.
The grant funding, Harris says, “is an example of state officials capitalizing on the growth in the area, that “not only benefits those brothers and sisters who can draw direct lines of a family relation to an African country, but really for the whole of Southwest Philadelphia.”
“But [it’s] also introducing others who may not know of all of the amazing things we have in Southwest Philadelphia.”
(Information for this article was graciously provided by Chris Fetterman of the Office of the PA House Democratic Whip with photos from Rep. Harris office:: www.pahouse.com/Harris/PhotoGallery?g=5397&PH=43224,
Excerpts from releases by WHYY and Axios were also used.)