Words at Play: North Philly Residents Enjoy a Block Party at the Cecil B. Moore Library
Residents of North Philadelphia were excited to bring their children to the Cecil B. Moore Library’s Words at Play Block Party Saturday, May 14. The goal of Words at Play is to promote literacy and combine learning with playtime. The event featured face painting, live performances and free food from local vendors.
According to the Free Library’s website, Words at Play is a grant-funded community literacy initiative with events taking place at the Cecil B. Moore and Widener libraries. The grant focuses on families with children up to five years of age and the program engages them through playing, singing and reading at “play parties.” Through these parties families learn new ways to strengthen their children’s vocabularies.
The Franklin Institute, the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Zoo are among organizations collaborating to offer Words at Play. Additionally, PNC Grow Up Great and PNC Crezca con Exito have created a $350 million multi-year bilingual program similar to Words at Play to help Spanish-speaking children with their studies.
Resident Carrie Gardner was especially grateful for the distraction for children facing violence every day in the neighborhood.
“I think this is good what they’re doing,” Gardner said. “Imagine the trauma the children go through seeing dead bodies outside.”
Gardner herself has been affected by domestic violence and plans to start a non-profit called Hearts of Courage to help women and children experiencing violence within their homes and in the community.
Acting-librarian Tamica Brittingham said this was the second annual Words at Play Block Party. She explained the goal of the block party as encouraging children to learn and play together. The emphasis is on the importance of literacy and to urge people to take advantage of the library’s resources, she said.
“We want people to come to the library to have access to books,” Brittingham said.
Some neighborhood businesses were inspired by Words at Play to spread the love of literacy throughout the community, and to attend the celebration. Jazz the Barber, as he is known, runs Creative Image Unisex Salon at 2737 Cecil B. Moore Ave. The salon recently celebrated the ribbon cutting of its barbershop book nook to promote literacy in the community. The book nook is a part of the shop where children can play and read while their parents are getting their hair done, Jazz said.
“For me, it’s a great addition to the shop,” Jazz said. “Parents come in and read with their children while being serviced.”
The ribbon cutting was celebrated on Thursday, May 12 with Mayor Jim Kenney attending and reading to children. Jazz also read a book called “Pete the Cat” to the children.
Words at Play also offers events at Free Library locations around the city, including pop-up play parties where children and parents read together. Families can also attend events at Words at Play partner locations.
The Words at Play program is also available for community events such as resource fairs where people can learn about the program.
Words at Play Outreach Coordinator Carrie Kreider said the theme of the block part was “family.” Children and parents were urged to observe how many families they saw, to discuss how families are alike and different and to make up a song about their own family.
Families were invited to participate in a scavenger hunt to find various items on a list including something green, something fuzzy, and orange bag and so on. Participants did not have to look far for orange bags, because everyone was carrying orange tote bags containing goodies from various vendors. Some of those goodies included reusable water bottles and pamphlets about the Free Library’s partners.
Live performances with positive messages about loving each other headlined the block party.
Music was provided throughout the day by DJ Bear One. Live performers featured were Joie Kathos, Storytime with Mama Carla and the Positive Movement Entertainment and Drill Team.
“We’ve got to learn how to live on this earth together,” Kathos said. “I like to empower people with music.”
DJ Bear One asked Kathos how he became interested in using words as art.
Kathos replied that when he was young he was into words. When he entered the public school system, he was ostracized by his peers and bullied.
“But I was resilient because I had music,” Kathos said.
The Positive Movement Entertainment and Drill Team, founded by Philadelphia resident Anitra Payne to help youth in violent communities to focus their energies on artistic endeavors such as storytelling and learning to play drums. Positive Movement’s motto is “Drop the guns. Pick up the drums.”
Payne told stories in the oral tradition of African call-and-response. One story was about West Africans being sold and shipped overseas to the United States as slaves.
Another story was about a girl slave who learned how to fly years after Africans forgot how to fly from slavery. Flying was a theme in African-American storytelling.
Another story she told was about anthropomorphic colors that all thought they were better than each other.
“Words have power,” she said. “If I say I can be something, I become it. Change your words. Make your own story.”
One participating vendor was Maker Jawn, an organization for children to learn about science, technology and math. Young children grouped around the table elbow-to-elbow with paintbrushes in hand, swiping watercolor paints on litmus paper.
Ella Trujillo, a Maker Mentor with the program, explained that the litmus paper is normally used for testing pH levels in chemicals, and the children were using paintless watercolors on the paper so the pH levels in the liquids would become different colors on the litmus paper.
Cecil B. Moore Library, like all Free Library Branches, regularly schedules community events focused on literacy. Wednesday, May 25th, the branch had an event called Freedom School: The Path to Education at 4 PM.
The focus of the event is on the punishments that people of African descent faced for being educated in America. Participants can learn about why education was and still is dangerous through the stories of influential people of African descent.
The branch also has a Juneteenth celebration scheduled for June 11th to observe the African-American day of freedom. This year’s event will feature storytelling with a group called Progeny’s Legacy Jama.
A list of events can be found at the Free Library’s website at www.freelibrary.org. •