Good morning. I have been at Point Breeze close to twenty years. We are a small community, one mile square, located in south Philadelphia, which is squeezed between center city and the river. For years, my community suffered nothing but real disinvestments. There were no significant anything done for Point Breeze. The housing stop was allowed to decay, drugs ran rampant, just about you-name-it, it went on in Point Breeze. In 1984, my mother actually decided that she wanted to start an organization. So she started point breeze performing arts center.

It really ran out of her kitchen and that is where it stayed and unfortunately, she passed away in 1987 and everyone said, "Oh, well, you have to pick up your mother's dream" and I thought, not me. You know, I'm not an artist, I absolutely know nothing about art and I thought, well I will stay here until you can possibly find some artsy-fartsy person to take over this organization. So, here I am, almost twenty years later, still at this organization. In the beginning, I just thought Art for Art's sake. Those kids would come, they would take classes, and they would go home. I never thought people would make demands on me, I never thought that I would get personally involved with the young people, or the families in the community. I was probably there a year, when people came and asked me, "Well, how I get food? How do I get food stamps? I need a therapist, I need this, my kids are misbehaving."

A woman came in one day and just sat in the lobby, she said, "I need to sit here because if I go home, I'm going to kill him," and I thought, what has that got to do with me? So, you know, I literally sat in the lobby, and I held her hand and I guess I talked her out of it, I never heard about it in the paper, but the lady has never come back into the organization again. So all these many years, you know, things evolve, they change, and you sort of grow up. It's almost like a rite of passage. You accept what's been given to you as a challenge, or you just drop the ball and you say to yourself, this doesn't involve me. Well I was born and raised in point breeze. I never had a political consciousness, was never really politically aware, until I had to really take these things on.

Then, I looked around and I thought, you know, there really has to be change. Not just change for change's sake, but for the young people in the community. At that point, we were the only positive African American role model for the young people that came in to the community. Because of them, I think so many things have changed and they are truly an integral part of what we do. Like I said in the beginning, we just started having classes. In 1992, after one of our summer camps, a group of young people with one of our instructors just started to come in, taking additional classes, jut fooling around in the studio. Now that group is the point breeze dance company. These were a group of kids, they were between nine and thirteen years old and one day my husband walked in and he said, "why are the kids here dancing every day?" and I said, "I don't know. You know, they don't have anything to do, they all live right here in the neighborhood, in the block."

So he went out and sold that. He sold that concept that these kids could perform somewhere and in the ensuing years, not only did he sell it, the kids traveled to Australia, they went to Angola, the island of Angola for two weeks, an open carnival, they've been to Galveston, Texas, they've been to Peru, I mean they traveled all around the world. This was the first group of young people. Then we started having a consultant that came in and he would have group sessions with the kids to just hear their thoughts on things. That's when we found out that they were very dissatisfied with their neighborhoods, not all of them wanted to grow up and move away, they wanted to know, why couldn't the graffiti be taken away, what did they need to do to help the drug dealers move off of the corners? So we kicked those things around for a long time and after that we started talking to our politicians, pushing for different things to happen within our community, to really get some money in the community, because the kids never thought of what they were doing, just art for art's sake, they came because they could find the answer to so many of their life problems. I mean, they would come and take the class and then after class they would tell me, "My mother beat me up last night. My father beat me up last night. What can you do to help?"

I have taken in so many young people it's like, unbelievable and like I said in the beginning, I never thought of myself as this person that was going to be around with young people. I thought I was going to pursue some kind of intellectual pursuits in life, and you know, half the time I find myself trying to teach somebody algebra and believe me when I tell you, when you have to go online and run to a bookstore to find concepts that you haven't done in almost forty years, that's the challenge.

Then we became involved with people that were actually doing economic development, we had to become entrepreneurs in what we were doing, and most people when they come to point breeze, they just see this little small building sitting right there and have no concept of what we do. Not only do we teach right at the center, we have about 8 or 9 satellites. Some are in the suburbs, we do a lot of work with the Philadelphia housing authority, taking programs to them 5 days a week, summer programs, and we have summer camps. So we're like more than just this little bird's eye view of what you see when you drive by. Then the state gave up 6 million dollars. Okay, that's a long story.

It was a 6 million dollar matching grant. Well, let me tell you, you know you don't look a gift horse in the mouth; it was like the Trojan horse. How do you raise the other 6 million? Well, we had so many people wanting to come and help us, who thought they were going to get their hands on the 6 million dollars, "Well, you know. They're too dumb and stupid, let us manage this."

Everyone wants to think of community arts as not very sophisticated. Everyone wants to come and help you but they don't want to do it for their heart, they see this price tag and they figure, "how much can I make off of this?"

It's really not about them. Anyway, we went through a lot of people who realized that they were not going to get their hands on the money. Then we became involved with Universal companies, which is, I don't know if everybody knows but Kenny Gamble, the… mogul came back to his community and really started to build it and then he came and asked up, were we willing to be a part of what was going on because they wanted to help in the revitalization of Point Breeze, and of course we said yes. So because of that, today we have brand new houses going up in point breeze that were never there before. The other thing that comes along with that is also gentrification. That's the challenge, as it is right now.

We just became a part of the point breeze coalition and it's going to be about a $100 million dollar project for the total revitalization of Point Breeze without trying to push out long-term residents and keep the tax base. The point breeze performing arts center is going to be the anchor with our new building. What we're proposing is a charter school and a performing arts center combined, so that we can capture all of these throw away young people. We have to do everything and yet we still find ourselves absolutely challenged on where our dollars are going to come from. I think most minority organizations; you can feel the sweat under your armpits just pop when payday rolls around, because we're still trying to figure out, are we going to make the payroll? I mean, that is so key, and it's interesting because after 9/11, some reporters came around to different organizations and asked, "How are you suffering the effects of funding?" and said, "Well, yeah our funding is down."

So hey wrote a story about us in the paper and I got a call from a gentleman and he said, "I have a black friend that was a tap dancer in Point Breeze. I really want to do something for you, because I'm really interested in that community, and I work for a foundation, I'm the head of it." So I said, "Oh that's wonderful," and he said, "What's your budget?"

I said, "$1.4 million."

He dropped the phone. He said, "$1.4 million? There's nothing in point breeze worth $1.4 million."

You have to take the insults and you have to learn to get over them. He sent a check for $500 dollars and I thought, well, you know what, I could send it back and be really nasty but I thought, you know, it pays the electric. So every little bit helps. It just goes to say that these organizations that are in communities are very important, because that's where social change comes from. That's where you give people a conscience. That's where young people learn that they're valuable and that they're important and that they can make a difference and that's what my organization is about. It's about helping young people make a difference, help them become a part of the process to help the change. Not just get a college education and go away.

In the first generation of young people that came through point breeze, my husband and I personally, out of our own pockets, had to pay their college tuition and every one of them that came through the program was a first generation college graduate. Some of them are teachers, some of them have gone on to careers in the arts, and our most famous graduate is now one of Beyoncé's choreographers and dancers. He constantly comes home and talks with the kids and works with them, we have other young people that are school teachers and often in the summer they come and they run our summer programs, some of them, live in the housing that we were a part of, so we're giving them choice opportunities and chances. That's what the arts are all about. Choice opportunities and chances.