Drexel PhD Student Takes Action and Seeks Community Support to Save the Sun Building | Now

As a Drexel University PhD student at the Dornsife School of Public Health, Samantha Rivera Joseph (MPH ’12) studies community trauma and measures its structural determinants.

These include factors such as vacant and abandoned buildings and land; the use of public and green spaces, and how they intertwine with things like violent crime incidents; prevalence of gentrification and displacement, rising cost of living and accompanying collapse of the community.

“These are all things that are beyond an individual’s control and contribute to the trauma they are going through,” Joseph said. “These things happen to them because of the way their communities or neighborhoods are structured. This is what really excites me.

In his own neighborhood of Mt. Airy in northwest Philadelphia, Joseph took this passion beyond research and turned it into action. She and her husband, Antoine Joseph, launched their personal crusade to “Save the building from the sun“- a historic two-lot structure on the 6600 block of Germantown Ave. – which they are quickly building into a community business.

The Josephs have lived just off Germantown Avenue for the past six years and have seen their neighborhood regularly change shape as older buildings are demolished and replaced with new modern developments erected without regard to features or local people.

Then last spring, following the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, they saw that the building right next to the Sun Building had been overturned, and estimated that the former home of the Philadelphia sunday sun newspaper, which had been vacant since 2019, would be next.

“My husband grew up in the neighborhood and he knows the history well. He knew the newspaper was coming out of there. He remembers it was an active building, ”Joseph said, adding that it was also a historically black space since at least 1969, when the head of the community Malcom Ford has opened an antique store called Heritage Pieces, until its most recent use as the seat of the Philadelphia sunday sun newspaper showcasing the local black community. “So we started to think about what we can do?” We wanted to draw attention to this. We want to try to save him. … We realized that, you know, we have an opportunity. We can try to buy it ourselves. This is the best way to ensure that it won’t be bought by a developer, potentially knocked down and replaced by another new development that doesn’t necessarily fit the community.

The current facade and the proposed new facade of the Sun Building.

The current facade and the proposed new facade of the Sun Building.

The Josephs plan to purchase and renovate the Sun Building in a way that honors its rich history. Then, within a year, they would like to transform it into a community meeting and event space, with two reasonably priced apartments on the second floor.

“We want to make sure it’s a space where we can actively engage the community, and that it’s a space that celebrates collaboration and honors black history,” she said. “There are a lot of monumental things that have happened on Germantown Avenue, especially on this block, that we don’t want to go away with the new development.”

Even at Drexel, Joseph is not the type to sit on the sidelines rather than act like she did with this company. In addition to her doctoral application in the Department of Community Health and Prevention in Dornsife, she is also a doctoral researcher with the Drexel collaboration in urban health and a researcher graduated from the West Philadelphia Promised District. In addition, she acts as Treasurer of the Latino Caucus for Public Health and as Co-Chair of the Community Engagement Subcommittee of the Working group against racism.

But despite her personal urge to get involved, Joseph said that she and her husband didn’t want saving the Sun Building to be about them. It’s a project for the community, and they are counting on the support of the community to get them to the finish line – and the other Dragons are answering the call.

The closing date set for the building is April 30, and the total cost of its title and planned construction exceeds $ 500,000, Joseph confirmed. She and her husband spent all of their personal savings, along with family gifts and loans, accounting for around 30% of that total budget. They also took out an aggressive bank loan covering more than 50%.

“Once this project goes smoothly, we will worry about our personal finances again,” Joseph said. “But we are invested. All of our savings are here, plus our parents. My father took money out of his pension fund.

A rendering of the community lounge meeting space offered inside the Sun Building.

A rendering of the community lounge meeting space offered inside the Sun Building.

They are counting on the community to fill the remaining 20%, or $ 100,000, needed in contributions, through the GoFundMe campaign and other provisions. And most urgently, they are pushing for the campaign to reach $ 45,000 by April 21 in order to close the building without having to take out more loans.

The supporters of the project came out of the woods financially, but also with their talents. Ryan Cole, Bachelor of Architecture ’13, saw local media coverage of the Save the Sun Building project and immediately reached out to the Josephs to offer them volunteer architectural support. He said the economic compulsion for projects like this to harness such support is at odds with architecture’s mission of stewardship and humanism, which is why he was forced to give it a go. tomorrow.

“Being able to bring the skills and experience of an international design firm to our streets and neighborhoods, and removing the economic barrier to this service, is a true blessing and I am continually grateful to the Josephs for providing me” said Cole.

Cole brings with him an entire design team for the project, and Joseph said other specialists have stepped up to volunteer their time to support law and marketing, sharing that same passion that spurred him to take action. Now she’s excited and thinks it’s important that people see and support this community driven project, rather than capitalism, and realize that they can have an impact in their own communities as well.

“Efforts like Save the Sun Building are the last line of defense against the privatization and gentrification of our cities,” Cole said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have a Starbucks or La Colombe nearby pretty much everywhere I go. But market-oriented development cannot be the only kind we have. “

“It’s tough, but you don’t have to sit down and let someone else come in and fix your community,” Joseph added. “It may be your responsibility.”

About Sara Rodriquez

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