For Philadelphian Martha Young, Education Remains Life Work

Bertrand Russell once said, “Education is one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.”  Martha Young, aged 77, would firmly agree.  For thirty three years, Young served as a teacher and principal in the School District of Philadelphia.  “I’ve lived a good life,” Young claims.  Throughout the course of her life, Young’s work ethic and love of education have become an inspiration for those who know her and the members of her family who have followed in her footsteps.

Born just outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, Young’s mother passed away when she was three.  Her final wish was to have the baby move to Philadelphia and live with her aunts Tiny, Martha, and Barry.  Her summertimes were spent living in places unknown with her aunts while they worked as maids and cooks for wealthier families.  Through her summer travels, Young has mentioned visiting places such as: “Ventnor and Margate in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.”

As a child, Young remembers her time in Sunday School at New Jerusalem Baptist Church at 2119 Diamond Street.  Being part of the school taught her how to speak fluently and in front of a large audience.  She remembers “memorizing every word correctly of 1 Corinthians: 13. I started with the first verse and kept going.”  After this moment, trends of full memorization began among her Sunday School class.

Her work ethic and desire to learn motivated Young to attend college at Cheney State College.  She went right into elementary education.  Her first teaching job was at Douglas Singerly Elementary School on 22nd and Norris Streets, walking distance from her home.  She spent time at another school Alexander Wilson School in West Philadelphia before going to Temple University for a degree to become a Principal.

Following a successful career as an Elementary School Principal, Young moved on to work for Foundations, a business which focuses on improving the quality of education throughout Philadelphia schools.  The doctor forced her to retire after thirty three years for health reasons.

Young calls herself a “good patient” because she does what doctors tell her.  Currently she has a list of seven doctors.  Aside from many different doctors, the middle of her back is titanium and she has a gauge assisting one of the arteries in her heart.  Despite health issues and retirement, Young says the only for her to enjoy life now is to “stay active.”  She is a member of Center in the Park in Northwest Philadelphia [see slideshow below] and is still involved in education.

While Young may no longer be able to work as a Principal and educator full time anymore, she has had the joy of watching the success of her daughter, Christine Wiggins, who founded Imhotep Institute Charter High School at 6201 N. 21st Street.  Along with her daughter, her granddaughter and son-in-law are also teachers there as well.  Young’s legacy of a belief in knowledge and education has been passed on throughout her family as well.

Standing in the hallway of Imhotep between class periods on a recent Friday, Young stood and observed students walking with a quiet sense of pride.  In her demeanor was a leader, an educator, and an an inspiration — while not in charge, someone who needs to respected and is proud of what being in school can accomplish.  Young summed it all up by simply saying, “It does not matter the size of the building or the amount of resources at your disposal.  In the end, it is all about the children.”

The Importance of Education

The Value of Learning

My Tour of Imhotep Charter High School [A DRAFT NEVER FINISHED]

The ancient Egyptian society is known in the history books for establishing many different landmarks on human history — writing, paper, pyramids, philosophy, religious ideologies, and much more. Held in high esteem with ancient Egyptian culture was a man named Imhotep. In the 27th century B.C., Imhotep served as Chancellor to the Pharaoh.

Imhotep Charter High School, located on 21st and Godfrey Streets in Northwest Philadelphia, is a wonderful community of learning consisting of 525 students

Yesterday I was honored enough to be given a tour of this unique community of learning. Walking up the steps of Imhotep through a cold, dreary, rainy Friday afternoon I did not know what I would witness on the inside. The miracle that the Imhotep brochure describes shines bright through the halls of this small Charter School.

Almost instantly, I felt like a member of the community. I was greeted by several students and offered a tour from Ms. Martha Young and a member of the administration.

The quality that Imhotep possesses more than any other high school is a true feeling of pride. Founded in 1998, Imhotep began as an assortment of small buildings across the street from its new three year old building.

An anonymous science teacher on her break stated, “There is an importance of being a teacher. You have to play educator, parent, psychologist, and at times disciplinarian. It’s very rewarding.”

Great Migration History

A Double Edged Sword

The Story of African American Women in Philadelphia during the Great Migration

The Great Migration, a mass movement of African Americans from the Southern states both North and West, is what Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabel Wilkinson believes is “the greatest underreported story of the twentieth century.” Historians have estimated close to seven million African Americans left the South between 1910 to 1960. The popular reasons for the moves were better economic conditions in Northern cities and less polarizing forms of racial discrimination that was experienced in the Southern states.

Source: Yahoo Image Search

Every person who migrated out of the South has a fascinating story to tell — one of immense struggle and uncertainty. At the forefront of this struggle were the numerous brave young women with children who moved in an effort to make a better living for themselves. Victims of a patriarchal society, women of ALL ethnicities, found difficulties in survival. For African American women, this struggle was much more difficult. As Lillian Bertha Jones Horace wrote in her personal diary, “A Negro woman’s two major handicaps were being a woman and being Negro.”

In the city of Philadelphia, African American women found it difficult to make their own living and were forced to use government programs. Sociologist Lisa Levenstein states, “For decades, black women and their children had used schools, public hospitals, and municipal courts, and they quikly made claims on New Deal programs such as welfare and public housing.” By the 1950s, all of these programs were servicing a primarily African American female clientele.

In a changing 1950s Philadelphia, African American women were forced to make difficult choices to survive. Corrine Elkins was one of these women. Elkins was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition which has significant effect on a woman’s uterus and can cause infertility. Her doctor recommended the following options: “have an operation, take expensive medication, or get pregnant.” Unable to undergo treatments, Elkins chose pregnancy. “I met a man and six weeks later I was pregnant. His response was ‘let’s get married.’ This was not a mighty love story.”

Source: Yahoo Image Search

African American mothers frequently could not stay at home with their children. A way of to fulfill that maternal responsibility was via employment.

Jobs for women in Philadelphia were not easy to come by. According to Levenstein, “Women, like men, scrambled to find even low-paying, physically demanding jobs.” To help make money to support her child, Catherine Sanderson recalls her job as a domestic servant. “I would wake up everyday and take Bufferins [aspirin] and then go to work. I would take the Befferins frequently throughout the day to and come home to clean, cook and iron. I rarely had enough money to feed both my son and I at dinnertime so I would go without.”

The migration of single African American women to Philadelphia is a story that depicts true struggle and uncertainty. In a growing work force, these women worked extremely difficult to make a living for themselves, and their children. Their stories changed the urban landscape of Northern cities forever.

For more information:
Great Migration Overview
Colored Women in Industry

Works Cited:

Gray, Steven. “Isabel Wilkerson on Black America’s Immigration Story.” Time Magazine. Sept. 28, 2010

Kossie, Karen. “To Leave or Not to Leave?.” African American Journal. 4.2 (2010)

Levenstein, Lisa. A Movement Without Marches: African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Group Project: Reporting Plan

Interviewing Ms. Cook

Group Members:

Kyla Jones
Karen Orzechowski
Jim Fischer

The Plan

Beginning on Monday, March 14th, we will have the unique opportunity to sit down with Ms. Thelma Cook to learn her experience of leaving her home and moving into Germantown, thus being a part of the historical social phenomenon referred to as the Great Migration. Upon meeting Ms. Cook, we will begin by introducing ourselves, giving our names and explaining what we’re studying in school. We will each explain our interest in the Great Migration Project. We will also be sure to thank Ms. Cook for her time in sitting down with us over the next few weeks. Last, before departing for the day, the team would like to get to know some of the basics of Ms. Cook’s story. Having a general idea of her story, when she moved to Germantown and such, will help us flesh out our questions for the next three meetings with Ms. Cook.

For the subsequent weeks following our first meeting, each of us will have a specific role regarding our interviews with Ms. Cook. Jim will lead the interview, asking the questions that we have outlined ahead of time. Kyla will be responsible for taking notes and offering backup. Karen will be in charge of tech, filming and potentially recording additional audio.

On March 21st, we will begin our full interview with Ms. Thelma Cook. In order to break the ice before the interview, we will ask Ms. Cook what she thinks of when she hears the term “Great Migration.” We will also ask Ms. Cook what she would like us, as students, to take away from this project. At this point, we will be prepared to begin the interview. As a team, we decided it would make the most sense to approach the interview chronologically. As of now, with no real knowledge of Ms. Cook’s past, we will dedicate this first day to learning about her early life in the South before moving to Germantown. Some questions might include: what did her parents do for a living? What was her house like growing up? What prompted her family to leave? Was the move her first time leaving the area of her hometown? How did she feel? We will have a better understanding of which questions are most pertinent after the initial meeting.

Our third meeting with Ms. Cook on March 28th will focus on her experience of moving to Germantown. What did her parents do for a living after the move? What was her first house like? What was the neighborhood like? Did they socialize with the neighbors? Did they belong to a local church? What was school like? Was it a difficult transition? These questions as well as the earlier meetings will prompt the other questions for this portion of the interview.

While considering how the interview has progressed thus far, the last meeting will focus on Ms. Cook’s current experience in Germantown and also what she anticipates for the future of Germantown.  What changes has Ms. Cook perceived in Germantown? What does she anticipate for the future? What does she think that Germantown can do to decrease crime and violence and bring a sense of community back? Our last question will appropriately ask Ms. Cook what she would like to say to future generations about their history.

The plan that we have outlined will help us to make the best use of the limited time that we have to speak with Ms. Thelma Cook, a participant in the epic Great Migration. It’s a great opportunity to be able to tell this historical sociological phenomenon from a human level.



Growing Up in Germantown

Germantown, a small section of Northwest Philadelphia, is known for many of its positive attributes — historical landmarks, small shops, beautiful artwork, and what several people have referred to as a “tight knit community.”

While all of these are extremely important attributes in defining the success of a neighborhood, there is something more that goes into it. That is the people who live in the community. Over the past several days, I have been given the opportunity to speak with several Germantown residents about their experiences growing up and living in their neighborhood. Through conversations with several people both on and off the record, I have found a strong feeling of pride people find in their neighborhood.

Patricia Lewis, who grew up in Germantown but moved to Northeast Philadelphia in 1982 described the sense of pride that her neighbors put into their block. She states, “It [Germantown] was just like any other neighborhood. You had the old people that would sit out on their stoops in the summer. Every Saturday morning at seven scrubbing the street down, getting everything clean because everyone took pride in the way their houses looked. Everyone took pride in their families. You could see it and feel it.”

As a child growing up in Germantown in the 1960s, Lewis mentions she lived by what was a street light way of life. “The life revolved around the street light. When you went out to play in the summer you were told to be home when the street light went on. No one knew what time that was, but you knew when the street light went on, you better be in the house.”

With what she classifies as a much simpler time, Lewis fondly recollects the games she would play with friends on a regular basis: “kick the can, riding on roller skates, you had the skate key on a shoelace around your neck, skateboards, and even your most basic line games such as Mother May I.”

Time has evolved since the simpler times of the 1960s and the street light way of life, but the Germantown pride still is just as strong and is exemplified in Germantown youth.

A high school Junior, who asked for anonymity, describes the same type of fun activities he and his friends partake in on a daily basis. He states, “We go to the neighborhood playground play basketball, football, tag every once and a while. We also like to sit on our friend’s porches, play Madden, and relax.”

What makes this young man stand out is not all about the activities he participates in with his friends, but his desire to succeed in the classroom and further his education after he graduates. At his school, he is heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, particularly with his role on the student council. “I run and organize events like dances, pep-rallies for football and basketball, fundraisers to gain money for our various programs, and even help in organizing intramural club sports.”

His passion and pride for his hometown, along with many of the other students who were willing to talk, show a promising future generation of Germantown.

Images of Hope

A Snowy Saturday in Germantown

January 31, 2011

I like to describe my weekend schedule as one of unchangeable routine: Happy Hour at Finnegan’s Wake and hang out with friends on Friday [Check], Sleep-in on Saturday followed by afternoon procrastination [Sorry Mom and Dad, I mean “homework.” Check], Work all day on Sunday [Still have to pay the bills. Check]. The only thing with more consistency then my weekend routine is knowing that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.

Last Saturday, the routine had to change.  For my first Online Journalism homework assignment I was assigned to learn about Germantown, and take photos that are “inspirational.” Armed with my friend Becca’s camera — a Canon Power Shot A-530 — I explored Germantown uncertain of whom I would get to meet or the places in the neighborhood I would see for the first time.

It is sad to admit that after four years of living at La Salle this is the first time I ever traveled Germantown Avenue. What I came across was something more than just a busy snow covered cobblestone street. It was a community full of history [I seen the Germantown Historical Society and the actual “Germantown White House”], small businesses, beautiful architecture, and many good people out enjoying their Saturday.

During the afternoon in Germantown one thing stood out to me personally: the countless amounts of murals painted throughout the neighborhood.  There is a certain power about painted art.  It has the ability to speak even though it cannot be heard.  As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt.”  Actually seeing the murals, their designs and their meanings was very interesting.

The first mural I came across was located on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Armat Street, and really portrays unity, which is essential for the success of any neighborhood. Spanning the entire length of the building the mural depicts a plethora of diversity bringing people of different races, ages, religious distinction together into a painting that can be seen for years.

Two more murals I came across depicted the liveliness of music.  The first mural found [bottom left], located on 21st and Conlyn Streets depicts famous musicians of the past.  Farther down the wall was a quote: “Music is life.”  That life in music was again found on the side of a building on Armstrong Street [shown at the header and again on the bottom right].  The significance of music helps connotes a feeling of positive energy throughout the neighborhood.  This is not just in the paintings themselves, but in all the elements that make Germantown a strong community.





This experience was one that taught me a great deal about the community around La Salle. The murals throughout the neighborhood depict the excellence that Germantown offers.

Photographs taken on Saturday January 29th, 2011

Snowy Streets [top]
Dimensions: 595 x 700
Resolution: 400 dpi

Unity Mural [Germantown Avenue and Arnat Street]
Dimensions: 1250 x 1013
Resolution: 300 dpi

Musicians Mural [21st and Conlyn Streets]
Dimensions: 700 x 402
Resolution: 300 dpi

Jazz Mural [E. Armstrong Street]
Dimensions: 750 x 428
Resolution: 400 dpi

All the photographs were taken with a Canon Power Shot A-530. Special Thanks to Becca for lending her camera for the afternoon.


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