There was dancing in the streets recently in Southwest Philadelphia — literally.

Evelyn Graves hosted her annual block party on the 5400 block of Chester Avenue, signaling the end of summer camp for students in her performing arts class.

Proud parents, local residents and supporters of Graves watched with smiles and responded with cheers and handclaps as the children sang songs they learned during the summer, recited lessons and danced for the public.

Folks stopped and took time to watch the young artists perform.

“The theme for our presentation today was ‘my piece for peace’ to let the community know that they can do something to contribute to peace,” said Cassandra Graves, daughter of Evelyn Graves. “They [the children] did a variety of things today from ballet, to hip-hop to scripture to singing.”

Graves said the children also did art projects throughout the summer and their creations were posted prominently on the wall outside the event.

The elder Graves was called “a legend” by the NAACP and received numerous awards and honors for her 40-year history of providing performing arts lessons and theatrical productions in the community.

While the building on 5447 Chester Ave. is well known to most residents of the area, Cassandra Graves, said they had humble beginnings.

“We started in 1971, we have been in this facility on Chester Ave. since 1976,” Graves said.

Before 1976, Evelyn Graves Ministries traveled from place to place, performing wherever possible in the community.

After acquiring the facility at 54th and Chester, the group continued performing other places.

The group now boasts a dinner theater in Yeadon and as they have grown, so have their services to the youth in the community.

Evelyn Graves Ministries is a non-profit organization. Persons interested in learning more about the ministry or would like to help by making a donation, can contact (215) 727-7796 or email them at

“We have a daycare program, we have a summer day camp, through September — June,” Graves said. “We have pre-K–12th grade program and the Evelyn Graves performing arts program where we teach ballet, drums, dance, voice lessons and piano on Saturdays.”

Tonjanika Smith, the dance director, volunteers with Evelyn Graves during the summer and describes the block party as a celebration of Christ.

“They are teaching the young children the value of Christ through the performing arts,” said Smith, originally from Florida but now attends the University of Pennsylvania.

She became acquainted with Graves through a friend’s birthday party and got involved.

“I can’t imagine ever leaving this place,” said Smith.

Imani Kellie, 9, was one of the Graves’ students who performed at the block party.

Asked how she felt performing, Kellie said, “happy because I experience more things.”

“We dance and do readings and other fun things here,” said Quadir Hines, also 9. “I like being here because it’s fun.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.