Strawberry Mansion Community Leader Honored
About a decade ago, Kevin Upshur paid tribute to his late mother by turning her bar into a learning center at 30th and Dauphin Streets in Strawberry Mansion.
Now, while he understands the neighborhood is still stereotyped as impoverished and full of violent crime, Upshur urges local communities and the city to do something about it.
“They need to come in and find out what they can do to help,” he said. “Even if you can’t come in physically to help, to give some advice … it’s always better when you have more ideas on the table.”
As the founder/director of the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center, Upshur, 57, has mentored numerous kids in the neighborhood. Last month, the state chapter of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice recognized his work, giving him the Lucien E. Blackwell Humanitarian Award.
The award, named after the former state representative and City Council member, was originally named after Martin Luther King, Jr., said Lillian Dixon, a chairperson of the NABCJ. It was renamed following Blackwell’s death in 2003, days after he delivered a keynote speech to the organization.
Marq Temple, president of the NABCJ, and Dixon both said Blackwell served lesser-known communities and citizens in the city. He also was a key player in multiple pieces of notable legislation, from allowing minorities and women to compete for city contracts to increasing the maximum building height.
Temple, 59, said Upshur was an easy pick for the award. “When you have someone doing things in that capacity, especially in that immediate community, it needs to be recognized,” he said.
Temple, like Upshur, grew up in Strawberry Mansion. He used to shine shoes at the bar, and saw people coming in and out with gunshot wounds and other injuries.
The learning center serves as a reminder that people can accomplish remarkable goals, even in what appears to be dangerous areas, Temple said.
“In the midst of everything going on around you, you can show folks that there’s a different way,” he said. “And give our children a different opportunity to take advantage of that way, especially through education.”
The Strawberry Mansion Learning Center offers after-school programs, a mentoring program on Saturdays, and also offers free meals to the community on the third Saturday of every month.
Dixon, 73, said Upshur and the learning center was a “hidden secret” in Philadelphia, and that the award recognizes those who positively impact the community through their work ethic.
Upshur was humbled to learn he had won the award, given Blackwell’s legacy in the city.
“He did quite a bit, he changed a lot, and helped a lot of people, and that’s what he was about,” Upshur said of Blackwell. “[What we do] is sort of the same stuff, he just did it on another level.”
Upshur received the award at the Haven Peniel United Methodist Church on January 15th. Dixon said it was apparent Upshur’s mother, Shirley, was the driving force behind the conversion of her bar into the learning center, as Kevin was emotional while receiving the award.
Dixon added that when Shirley gave Kevin the bar, the message was simple: do good in the community.
“She said to him, ‘This is being left so you can take it to the next generation … take this and do a positive thing.’” •