As many of you may know, I contribute photography to the Mt. Airy Patch, which is edited by Zach Subar. I had the pleasure of covering the 42nd Annual Mt. Airy Day neighborhood festival for the Patch earlier this month on May 5th. Among the captures of that day were four photos of a energetic and soulful group of young percussionists that, through their rhythmic drumming, captivated a crowd of festival onlookers.
I found out later that the organization responsible for the drumming was Dignity Housing, which is based in Germantown. Dignity Housing’s Development Coordinator contacted me not too long after the photos ran on the Patch website to request permission to use them in Dignity’s marketing and promotional materials and website (cool!!). Butler graciously provided me with detailed background information on this youth development program and this innovative organization, as I stated I would be interested in blogging about Drumline and Dignity Housing.
Established in 1988, Dignity Housing is the first housing and supportive services program in the nation to be founded and guided by homeless people and activists. Dignity’s mission is to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty that confronts low-income families and individuals in the City of Philadelphia. Dignity Housing breaks the cycle of homelessness by providing safe, decent affordable housing, promoting self-sufficiency, and creating opportunities beyond expectations. Since its inception, Dignity has provided both quality affordable housing and supportive services to thousands of adults and children – primarily single African American women and their children. Dignity has cultivated an individualized services approach to meeting the complex needs of homeless individuals and families, and currently manages an inventory of 60 units of affordable housing concentrated in Northwest Philadelphia.
Drumline, an initiative of Dignity Housing and a component of its After-School program, was established in October 2003, using Afro-Brazilian drumming to encourage and foster the development of talent, self-discipline, self-confidence and group cohesiveness of formerly homeless young people between the ages of six and 18 years. This is no small feat, as the targeted students in the program come from challenged backgrounds. Prior to entering Dignity Housing, many of these children were living with their families in emergency shelters, while others were sons and daughters of parents who were exiting substance abuse programs.
Despite the obstacles that they face on a daily basis, the participating drummers not only commit to weekly practices, interactions with community volunteers who contribute their time and energy to the program, and public performances (such as the one at Mt. Airy Day), they strive to maintain a high level of academic achievement along with regular school attendance as a condition of participation. All indicators point to a successful program. Another measure of success? Many of the participants who either age out of or graduate from the program return to participate in practices and performances.
When it was all said and done, I was very impressed by this program, and am very pleased to have my photography connected to a community-based organization working everyday to combat homelessness and to help young people develop into productive, engaged adults.
A big thank you goes to Jordan Butler, Sarah Janicki, Mike Stevens, the rest of the staff and board of Dignity Housing, and all of the young people and community volunteers who participate in Drumline. I am inspired by your energy, dedication, resilence and boundless hopefulness.
Peace and blessings.