LeBrian Brown sees an overwhelming number of homeless and formerly incarcerated African Americans pass through the doors of the Broad Street Ministry.
But as the coordinator for the new voter registration program at the nonprofit, Brown says he is helping those Black Philadelphians and others cast their ballots in the upcoming election to have their voices heard.
“I feel real empowered. I feel like I’m giving my people the opportunity to speak up, speak out, get their voices heard and get involved,” Brown said.
Friday was the final day Broad Street Ministry was operating its voter registration program to sign up would-be voters. (The final day to register to vote in the state is Monday.)
As Brown was speaking on the ground floor of the Center City nonprofit, employees and volunteers were preparing other services provided there, including free lunch kits, before the doors opened.
When they did, dozens of individuals, many of whom are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, stepped into the building and out of the rain.
Since launching around the start of September, the voter registration program at Broad Street Ministry has signed up 182 individuals, who had an average age of 57.5. The program also has gotten 75 individuals to complete the U.S. census.
The voter registration program complements the mail service program offered at Broad Street Ministry, which provides a mailing address for individuals experiencing homelessness.
A mailing address is required in the state in order to register to vote, as well as to obtain a state identification and birth certificate, among other things.
Upwards of 10,000 individuals are registered to use the mail service, which operates five days a week. Last year, the organization processed more than 167,000 pieces of mail.
Around noon, Michael Harper, 61, stepped up to the voter registration desk inside the nonprofit. While speaking behind a plastic partition, Christine “Chrissy” Ross, a data entry specialist, helped him confirm his voter registration.
Harper, who has previously experienced homelessness, said he intended to vote in person on Nov. 3. Without the access to the voter registration and mail services, the latter of which he has used for more than two years, Harper said it may be more difficult for him to access the ballot box.
“This service means a lot,” Harper said.
Zhané DeShields, who helps register people to vote through the program, said she has noticed that President Donald Trump’s false attacks on mail-in voting were leading some voters there to have doubts about casting a ballot through the mail.
“The president said the mail-in ballots are rigged,” said DeShields.
Trump, a Republican, is running against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, in the upcoming election. Several other races are on the ballot, along with a handful of ballot questions.
The voter registration program also helps educate voters on the upcoming political races and ballot questions and informs formerly incarcerated individuals that they are eligible to vote, Brown said.
Among those who registered to vote on Friday was Ted Weems.
At 60 years old, Weems, who is experiencing homelessness, said he intended to vote for the first time in the presidential election.
“I feel like it’s crucial this time to vote because of all the things that are going on in life,” Weems said. “There certainly needs to be a change.”
A quarter-century ago, Jerome Dorn experienced an awakening that still stirs him emotionally. Dorn and 41 men from the Greater Germantown Turn It Over Recovery Group boldly walked 152 miles from Independence Mall to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to attend the Million Man March.
Friday was the silver anniversary of the event. For Dorn, it was a day when a contingent of Black men from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital exhibiting solidarity, love and respect for each other. It created a beautiful memory that means a lot.
“This was something that I will never forget,” said Dorn, who now runs a thriving photography enterprise in Atlanta. “To be a part of something as monumental as the Million Man March is something that stays with you forever.”
A former special operations soldier in the U.S. Army, Dorn came up with the idea of walking to the event. Then he heard something about Boy Scouts wanting to walk to D.C., but that never materialized. He was prepared to do it alone but someone told him about Greater Germantown Turn It Over Recovery Group. The organization, which is no longer around, helped people recover from drug addiction. Back then, a scourge of cocaine and crack plagued the country and especially Philadelphia.
“Things began to move from there,” Dorn said. “We had a strong group of people and they were ready to make that walk.”
So on Oct. 11, only five days before the event, the group began walking from Independence Mall. They traveled down U.S. Route 1. For more than three centuries U.S. Route 1, which st
There were several speeches and appearances made by prominent African Americans. The crowd chanted Rosa Parks’ name when she briefly took the podium. Maya Angelou recited a poem and the Rev. Jesse Jackson kept the throng excited with strong words of encouragement. The Rev. Ben Chavis Jr., the national director of the Million Man March, was inspiring, but the crowd wanted to see and hear from Minister Louis Farrakhan.
When the march was over, Dorn and a family member were driven back to Philadelphia. A bus returned the rest of the group back home.
“It was an experience that I will never forget,” Dorn said. “It was beautiful.”
A local alliance is calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to provide direct funding for barbershops and hair salons across Pennsylvania that are struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The push comes as members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democrats Caucus unveiled a plan on Friday to spend $1.3 billion in money remaining from the CARES Act funding.
The proposal includes $575 million for business assistance, and approximately $50 million of that funding would be targeted toward barbershops, salons and the personal care industry.
Natalie McNeill, a salon owner and member of the PA Professional Image Alliance, said the organization was hopeful that state officials could carve out funding for their industry, which was adversely impacted financially by the pandemic.
“There is no industry that doesn’t deserve it, but we’ll still keep fighting to try to get money specifically for us,” she said.
“We’re going to keep fighting and keep pushing to get the help that we definitely need and we deserve.”
McNeill said Black- and Latino-owned barbershops and hair salons represent a big part of those businesses in the state’s urban areas.
“We’re trying to have thriving communities and that is why we are trying to help all that we can,” she said of the alliance’s advocacy.
The PA Professional Image Alliance has spearheaded a petition asking Wolf to provide targeted assistance for the survival of barbershops and salons. The petition calls for a minimum grant of $25,000 per registered hair salon and barber shop in the state.
McNeill said some of the city’s barbershops and salon owners did not benefit from the $225 million COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program.
As of Oct. 5, more than 10,000 businesses throughout the state were approved for $192 million in grants through the initiative. The program provides grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses that have been economically impacted by COVID-19.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said the program received more than $1 billion in applications from business owners throughout Pennsylvania and highlighted the need for more state and federal government support.
“This platform gets to the barbers and the salons,” Hughes said. “This platform gets to neighborhood businesses that usually don’t get access to these kinds of resources. It’s just begging for more dollars. The bottom line is that we need more funds.”
The remaining CARES funds must be spent by Dec. 31 on needs related to COVID-19 or the state loses the authority to use the money.
“When we passed our original spending plan for these dollars, we withheld a portion of our allocation to see what would happen with COVID-19 through the summer and fall,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa Jr. said in a news release.
“We’ve been allocated these funds to help with recovery. It’s time to spend them. Folks need help now. I urge our Republican colleagues to add this to the agenda for our session days next week.”
PHILADELPHIA — When President Donald Trump told the world that “bad things happen in Philadelphia,” it was, in part, a blunt assessment of his party’s struggles in the nation’s sixth-most populous city.
For decades, Philadelphia has been the cornerstone of Democratic victories in the battleground state — producing Democratic margins so massive that winning statewide has been a longshot for most Republican presidential candidates.
But it’s a longshot Trump pulled off in 2016 and is trying to repeat again. His debate stage disdain for the City of Brotherly Love — which quickly inspired memes and T-shirts — underscored his campaign’s months-long effort to fight the blue tide that starts in the city.
That fight has involved court challenges and statehouse wrangling over mail-in voting and poll watching, efforts Democrats characterize as voter suppression.
And it came as Trump openly declared, citing no evidence, that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania to former Vice President Joe Biden is through a massive fraud engineered by Democrats in the city of 1.6 million.
But Trump can’t change the basic political math in the state: one in eight registered voters live in Philadelphia, a city that keeps delivering increasingly large Democratic margins, routinely provides one in five votes for Democratic presidential candidates and is spurring a leftward drift in the heavily populated suburbs around it.
“Trump is right, ‘bad things happen in Philadelphia,’ especially for him,” Philadelphia’s Democratic Party chair, Bob Brady, said. “And bad things are going to happen for him in Philadelphia on Election Day.”
Recent polls show Trump and Biden in a competitive race in Pennsylvania, or Biden ahead by single-digits in a state Trump won by just over 44,000 votes — less than a percentage point — in 2016.
Trump’s victory was the first by a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and it shocked Pennsylvania Democrats to the core.
In Philadelphia, Biden’s campaign is putting a heavy emphasis on turning out Black and Latino voters and is bringing in former President Barack Obama to campaign there. Trump’s campaign is making its own appeal to Black and Latino voters and hoping for even better results with his white, working-class base.
Brady predicted Philadelphia will carry the rest of Pennsylvania and produce a bigger margin of victory for Biden than the 475,000 it produced for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That gap was slightly smaller than the historic margins Obama had in 2008 and 2012.
The Biden campaign has several “voter activation” centers around the city, not to mention Biden’s campaign headquarters.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, opened offices in heavily Black west Philadelphia and in heavily white northeast Philadelphia.
Thanks to a year-old state law that greatly expanded mail-in voting, people now have weeks to vote and turnout is brisk at newly opened election offices around the city where voters can fill out and cast ballots.
That is giving hope to Philadelphia Democrats, after the city’s predominantly Black wards did not turn out as strongly in 2016 for Clinton as they did for Obama, including some that delivered 10% fewer votes.
“The line went around the block,” state Rep. Chris Rabb, whose district is 70% Black, said of a newly opened election office there. “It was nothing that I’ve seen since 2008 and I’ve worked the polls for 16 years now.”
In a city that is 42% Black, the belief that Trump has fueled a racist surge is widely held.
Breaking up concrete on a contracting job at a west Philadelphia rowhouse this week, Dexter Ayres, a lifelong Democrat, said he already voted for Biden in hopes of improving how Black people are treated in America.
Some of his friends are skeptical that voting will change anything. Ayres, who is Black, admitted that makes him wonder, “Wow, why did I vote?”
“But then I look at it like: ‘Well, maybe my vote will make a difference,’” Ayres said. “I’m just praying and leaving it in God’s hands.”
Sitting on her front porch in west Philadelphia this week, Latoya Ratcliff, a Democrat, said she will vote for Biden, and sees more enthusiasm in her neighborhood to vote out Trump than in 2016 to vote for Hillary Clinton.
The defining issue for Ratcliff, who is Black, is racism.
“They understand a little more about getting out and getting that vote out,” said Ratcliff, 39.
In northeast Philadelphia, Trump saw unexpectedly strong support from an area with a reputation for being home to unionized building trades members, police officers and firefighters. Republicans say they now expect even stronger support for Trump there.
“Back the Blue” yard signs and thin-blue-line flags are everywhere in some neighborhoods, the city’s police union endorsed Trump again and the city’s firefighters and paramedics union also endorsed him, breaking with its international association’s endorsement of Biden.
Leaving his northeast Philadelphia home to go shopping recently, lifelong Democrat Joe Dowling said he will vote for Trump after backing Clinton four years ago. The issue that changed his mind, he said, has been the violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death and a backlash against police.
“It’s out of control,” said Dowling, 60, who is white. “There’s no reason for anybody to disrespect the police.”
Democrats acknowledge that they slipped in northeast Philadelphia in 2016 — the swing was about 11,000 voters from 2012.
Still, the area snapped back for Democrats in 2018 and U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, who represents it in Congress, said he expects Biden to do better there than Clinton.
He recalled a paper-shredding event his office last fall, attended by hundreds in the parking lot of the plumbers’ union office in northeast Philadelphia.
“I was surprised by the animus toward Trump, people unsolicited saying, ‘Gotta get him out of there, he’s a disaster,’” said Boyle, a Democrat. “And it was different. I wasn’t hearing that a few years earlier.”
Stephen Lomas, a long-time registered Republican who lives between two Trump supporters in northeast Philadelphia, said he will vote for Biden.
Lomas, 84, who is white, said Trump and members of his administration “are tearing down our belief in the system. ... They’re out-and-out crooks. They’re almost traitors to our Constitution.”
Besides mail-in voting, another thing that is different in this presidential election is a network of allied liberal issues and community groups in Philadelphia, organizers say, with a long-term focus on reaching people unlikely to vote in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Briheem Douglas, vice president of Unite Here Local 274, a union of casino, food service and hotel workers that supports Biden, said he is canvassing harder than ever before.
Douglas, 36, tells a personal story to everyone he meets who isn’t planning to vote: He is caring for the infant child of his 21-year-old niece, Brianna, who died in September from the coronvavirus.
“So I’m laser-focused on canvassing more than in 2016,” Douglas said.