Pa. Supreme Court to hear arguments Wednesday over redactions in clergy sex abuse report

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will weigh arguments over redactions in the explosive grand jury report that exposed alleged widespread child sexual abuse and cover up in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic Dioceses.  

About a dozen clergy members — whose names have been redacted from the report — are fighting to protect their identities and reputations, claiming their due process rights have been violated. They argue the court should adopt the redacted version as the final draft.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro disagrees with that conclusion.  He claims the court can reconcile both the privacy rights of clergy members and the public’s interest in the investigation.

One option, Shapiro suggests, is for the court to recall the grand jury or to bring the investigation before a new grand jury to resolve objections.  In addition, he says the anonymous clergy members should have the opportunity to testify before the grand jury, and that investigators should be able to bring in new evidence.

The nearly 900-page report documents the stories of more than 1,000 children who have been allegedly abused at the hands of more than 300 “predator priests.”

Since the report was released last month, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has received more than 1,100 calls to it’s clergy sex abuse hotline and several other state’s attorneys general have initiated their own investigations.

As an onlooker, David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney, says, generally, secrecy and protecting a person from unfair stigma is important in grand jury investigations, but this is an unusual case.

“You can understand why the people who may have been named feel strongly that their names should not be disclosed,” he said. “On the other hand, you can understand why the Attorney General believes that this was such widespread corruption that it’s important for the public to know everything about it.”

Rudovsky added that the public interest in the case makes it a tough decision for the court.

“I think it makes it more difficult for the court to find the right place to draw the line between public disclosure and the right of privacy, and beyond privacy, the right of individuals who might be named in the grand jury probe, but don’t have an effective way of defending themselves.”

In legal documents, attorneys representing the clergy members criticized Shapiro, personally, for his media appearances. They say he’s tainted the process.

“The Attorney General’s misconduct itself rises to the level of a violation of due process, creating a fixed bias and hostility toward the Petitioners, ensuring that no future grand juror could impartially evaluate Petitioners’ evidence in a new proceeding,” wrote the clergy’s attorneys.

In its response, the attorney general’s office brushed aside the claim, pointing out that juries have remained impartial in many other high profile cases involving intense media scrutiny including the criminal trial of his predecessor, Kathleen Kane, and of comedian and entertainer Bill Cosby.

They say the clergy members have pivoted from their original arguments over the redactions.

“The clergy-petitioners have maintained that their goal was a forum in which to challenge the grand jury’s conclusions. Now, it appears, that is not the case; the relief they desire is not more process, but no more,” wrote the Attorney General.

Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, has been archiving and documenting investigations into Catholic clergy sexual abuse since 2003, sparked by the scandal in Boston.

He’s says the Catholic Church has a long track record when it come to resisting transparency and accountability, but that most other reports into clergy sexual abuse don’t have redactions made by a court like this one.

“I think it’s important to remember that the Grand Jury Act in Pennsylvania provides for responses, but it does not provide for censoring of a report,” said McKiernan.  

He hopes the court will decide to remove the redactions.

Oral arguments will be held in Philadelphia and will be the first public hearing before the state Supreme Court in this investigation.   

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Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court restores Philly’s right to fight blight with fines for boarded windows and doors

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has given Philadelphia back its favorite blight-fighting tool. In a Sept. 13 ruling, state justices unanimously reaffirmed the city’s ability to force property owners to maintain the appearances of their vacant buildings, reversing a 2015 lower court ruling.

The case centers on the city’s “Doors and Windows” ordinance, which the Department of Licenses and Inspections began enforcing in 2011 as a means to reduce the number of unkempt, boarded-up buildings in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The regulation intends to serve as a hedge against creeping neighborhood blight. It requires owners on blocks where 80 percent of buildings are occupied to install operable windows and doors on empty structures, instead of just boarding them up.

To compel action, L&I inspectors prominently place a scarlet sticker on the buildings of noncompliant owners. If that doesn’t provoke changes, they go to a special “blight court” set up under the auspices of the Common Pleas Court where fines are negotiated under the eye of a judge. Those owners who don’t comply could be hit with fines of $300 daily per every window and door that remains boarded or open to the elements.

“This was an intentional tool for stopping the disinvestment spiral,” said Alexander Balloon, director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation, which submitted an amicus brief in support of the city. “It was particularly important in middle neighborhoods where you have one house on a block that gets boarded up and then the next one and the next one.”

Property owners who showed up for blight court had a compliance rate of 75 percent, making for 1,284  properties that were fixed up under the regulation.

When the ordinance was enforced between 2011 and 2015, L&I proactively identified vacant buildings that could be salvaged and whose owners could feasibly comply. When they began taking offending property owners to court, they targeted neighborhoods that suffered clusters of windowless properties but where the market remained strong enough that fines could conceivably act as a deterrent. If a house is only worth $5,000, the logic went, the owner is unlikely to pay fines to keep it.

“Really, the goal isn’t to just put in doors and windows, but to get someone to reoccupy,” said Rebecca Swanson, director of Planning and Analysis for L&I. “That means it’s not going to further deteriorate, it’s not going to become unsafe, we won’t have to demolish it eventually and so we won’t put a hole in the block.”

It’s not only the courts that have scrutinized the city policy. Among researchers, the consensus is that it works.  In 2015, The Reinvestment Fund found that census block groups where L&I concentrated their attentions enjoyed dramatic increases in home sale prices.

Epidemiologists and criminologists at University of Pennsylvania’s medical school found the ordinance resulted in a significant decrease in both serious and nuisance crimes within a half mile of buildings where property owners cleaned up their properties.

But despite the enthusiasm of community groups, academic researchers, and the national media, lower courts ruled that the city could not exercise its police powers for what were deemed beautification purposes.

The dispute at the heart of these cases leads back to a vacant industrial block in Kensington.  The windows and doors ordinance generally applies only to blocks with a vacancy rate of 20 percent or less,  but it also includes a provision that allows L&I commissioners to apply the ordinance in select cases where that threshold isn’t met.

That provision is in place so that if a heavily vacant block borders a stable residential neighborhood, the agency can decide to intervene to keep the contagion from spreading.

That’s what happened with the blocks-long building that once housed the Gretz Brewery on Germantown Avenue and Oxford Street. When L&I took owner Tony Rufo to court, he appealed his numerous windows and doors violations. The judge proved sympathetic to his plight.

“The essential implementation of this ordinance, in this case, appears to be concerned more with aesthetics and the appearance of occupancy rather than blight, safety, and security,” wrote Judge Linda Carpenter, a Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia, in her 2015 decision.

After that ruling, L&I put its enforcement strategy on hold until the appellate courts could hear their case. Under Commissioner Dave Perri, appointed in 2016, the agency has never been able to incorporate the tool into their larger anti-vacancy strategy.

Perri said that with the Supreme Court ruling on its side L&I  will redouble efforts to crack down on vacancy. L&I’s data systems have improved greatly in the last three years, he said, allowing the office to more easily track compliance rates and target which owners to take to court. All of the department’s inspectors will be assigned to look for applicable properties within the census tracts they patrol — a citywide strategy only briefly adopted in 2015 before the ordinance was put on hold.

Swanson said her inbox is already overflowing with emails from community members excited about the return of the regulation. When L&I inspectors are in the field enforcing the doors and windows ordinance — placing the agency’s scarlet stickers on the offending pieces of particle board — they are hailed as heroes.

“We had engagement from the community on this more so than anything else,” said Swanson. “The inspector who’s been doing this since the beginning said little old ladies would come out and give him hugs just for putting up a sticker.”

Harvey Spear of the landlord advocacy group the HAPCO said that his members largely support the idea, although he noted that the fines seem “excessive.”

For groups like Balloon’s Tacony Community Development Corporation, the regulation’s return is a blessing, even though Tacony itself doesn’t have as many boarded-up houses today as it did when the ordinance first went into use in the wake of the Great Recession.

But there are still plenty of other neighborhoods that need the help.

“Philadelphia is in a much stronger market position now than we were when this was introduced,” said Balloon. “But we still have lots of vacant buildings. No one wants to live next to a boarded up, unmaintained house that aesthetically steals value from its neighbors.”

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Trump address to UN overshadowed by messy domestic politics

President Donald Trump aims to use his address to the United Nations to tout his rapprochement with North Korea and slam Iran, but his international agenda is being overshadowed by domestic political troubles.

White House aides had cast Trump’s visit to New York in triumphal terms: an opportunity to assert American sovereignty before the multinational body. He was set to be unapologetic about his decisions to engage with the erstwhile pariah North Korea, remove the U.S. from the Iran nuclear accord and object to U.N. aid programs he believes are contrary to American interests. But he is finding himself forced to confront the salacious and embarrassing as he participates in the U.N. General Assembly.

“Will be speaking at the United Nations this morning,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Our country is much stronger and much richer than it was when I took office less than two years ago. We are also MUCH safer!”

Trump is to address the General Assembly on Tuesday morning and to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the topic of counterproliferation on Wednesday. The four days of choreographed foreign affairs were to stand in contrast to a presidency largely defined by disorder.

Appearances on the global stage tend to elevate the stature of presidents both abroad and at home. But even before his arrival for the annual bonanza of world leaders and diplomats, the desired image was muddied by confusion in Washington.

The fate of his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was cast into fresh doubt over the weekend amid a second allegation of sexual misconduct, which Kavanaugh denies.

Drama also swirled Monday around the status of his deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was reported last week to have floated the idea of secretly recording Trump last year and to have raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. The man overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and a frequent target of Trump’s ire offered to resign and fully expected Monday to be fired. He received a stay of punishment at least until Thursday, when he is to meet with Trump at the White House.

With cable news chyrons flashing breathless updates about both Beltway dramas, news of Trump’s foreign policy moves from the U.N., led by a new trade deal with South Korea, struggled to break through and disappointed White House aides. A similar fate may await Trump when he speaks to the General Assembly.

A year ago, Trump stood at the international rostrum and derided the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.”

“It was a different world,” Trump said Monday of his one-time moniker for the North Korean leader. “That was a dangerous time. This is one year later, a much different time.”

Trump praised Kim as “very open” and “terrific,” despite the sluggish pace of progress toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered a personal message to Trump from Kim after their inter-Korean talks last week in Pyongyang.

“You are the only person who can solve this problem,” Moon said to Trump, relaying Kim’s words.

The president said the location for a second summit with Kim is still to be determined, but officials have said Trump is holding out hope it could take place on American soil. Such a move would present a complex political and logistical challenge for the North Korean leader. Trump has often fondly invoked the Singapore summit, a made-for-TV event that attracted the world’s media attention and largely received positive marks from cable pundits — reviews that were not repeated for his summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki the following month.

Trump and Moon on Monday signed a new version of the U.S.-South Korean trade agreement, marking one of Trump’s first successes in his effort to renegotiate economic deals on more favorable terms for the U.S. Trump labeled it a “very big deal” and said the new agreement makes significant improvements to reduce the trade deficit between the countries and create opportunities to export American products to South Korea.

In both venues, U.S. officials say, Trump is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday to offer a contrast between the path of negotiation chosen by North Korea and that of Iran. Trump earlier this year bucked allies and removed the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, citing Iran’s malign influence in the region and support for groups like Hezbollah. The next round of tough sanctions on Iran is set to go into effect in November.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in New York to attend U.N. meetings. U.S. officials said Trump is not seeking a meeting with him but is not opposed to talking if Iran requests a session.

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Pa. House moves key amendment allowing retroactive child sex abuse suits

The state House has approved an amendment that would open a two-year window for child sex abuse victims to file civil suits in cases on which the statute of limitations has run out.

However the amendment — and the bill it’s attached to — still faces a tough road to final passage.

The bill applies to all child sex abuse cases, but it’s being debated in the context of abuse within the Catholic Church detailed in a damning grand jury report released this summer into six of the state’s eight dioceses.

Current state law lets child sexual abuse victims sue until they’re 30. The House’s bill would also extend that period and get rid of time limits on criminal prosecutions in the future.

The chamber could pass it Tuesday. It would then move to the Senate, which supports most of its provisions.

But Senate leaders have emphatically opposed opening a two-year window for statute-limited victims to sue their abusers retroactively — arguing it’s unconstitutional and would bankrupt churches.

At a rally in support of the amendment, former GOP House Speaker Dennis O’Brien, who worked to extend protections to victims of childhood sexual abuse in his home city of Philadelphia, said there’s no guarantee the courts would find the amendment out of order.

He added, he thinks those who oppose it are on the wrong side of history.

“How can you, on any side of the aisle, say that you support families if you in any way restrict these victims from coming forward and telling their story?” O’Brien asked.

As for concerns about financial hits to churches, he said that shouldn’t be a deterrent.

“It’s the only way you’re going to stop this,” he said, raising his voice. “By putting institutions at risk. It is the only answer. The only answer.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, is one of the most prominent opponents of the two-year window.

Instead, he proposes setting up a compensation fund for the victims that would be overseen by the state — a measure also supported by the Catholic Church.

The sponsor of the retroactivity bill is Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who says he was assaulted by a priest as a teenager.

On the House floor, he appealed for his colleagues to put themselves in his shoes.

“Thirteen years old,” he said. “Getting raped in a shower by Father Graff. Do you think I’m thinking about what a statute of limitations is? And then only finding I had five years criminally to come forward and two years civilly.”

“Legislators have failed in the past,” he added. “Today we make this right. Victims have waited long enough.”

The House ultimately passed the two-year retroactivity window handily, in a 171-23 vote.

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After months of waiting, gun protection bill up for a vote in Pa. House

The state House is expected to pass a proposal Tuesday making it harder for domestic abusers to possess weapons.

It could be the first significant gun-related bill the chamber gets across the finish line after dozens of attempts this session.

The measure in question would require people under protection from abuse orders to turn over their weapons more quickly, and make those weapons harder to reclaim.

It was initially expected to pass in June, but shortly before lawmakers recessed for the summer, the group Firearm Owners Against Crime pulled its support over concerns the measure would allow guns to be seized without due process.

Bill sponsor Marguerite Quinn, R-Bucks, said the differences still aren’t resolved.

“Those people who are against the bill, those organizations have been very active in putting some misinformation out,” she said.

Still, she thinks it will pass.

Quinn and other supporters made some concessions to ensure they have enough backers — for instance, letting judges use discretion in ordering weapons to be surrendered if abusers sign a consent agreement to stop violent behavior.

The bill was scheduled for a House vote Monday, but lawmakers ran out of time before heading to a charity softball game.

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Is the record number of women candidates a 2018 blip — or a lasting trend?

Lauren Underwood, Democratic House candidate in Illinois’ 14th district, is part of a record boom of women running for office in 2018 – from Congress to governorships to state legislatures across the country.

But she didn’t just wake up one day and decide this was the year.

The 31-year-old nurse, who also worked in the Obama administration Health and Human Services Department, says she hadn’t really considering running for office…but then, she heard that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was digging into the numbers to see where they might be able to compete in 2018.

“I was like, ‘What? I want to know about the data on Democrats in Naperville.’ So I reached out and they brought me in for a meeting and walked me through that information,” she said. “At the end of that conversation they were like, ‘We’re looking for someone to run in the 14th. Is there any chance you’d be remotely interested?’ That opened the door for me.”

That fact — that she only really started thinking seriously about running after she was asked — makes her a lot like many other women candidates. But since the number of women candidates for House, Senate, governorships and state legislatures have all soared past previous records this year, raising the question of whether the conventional wisdom that women don’t step forward to run on their own is changing.

“What we do know is that women don’t think about running for office as often as men do without getting recruited without having someone else suggest it,” said Deborah Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

So what about 2018?

“We don’t know if this is a one-off or if this may be the beginning of a new norm. But it’s fascinating to watch women who are not necessarily waiting to be asked, not waiting to be asked to the dance,” she said. “They’re just stepping up and engaging as candidates.”

Elizabeth Heng, a Republican running in California’s 16th district, is one such candidate.

“It was all me,” she says of her decision to run earlier this year, spurred by evidence of a dysfunctional Congress. “On January 20th, when our government shut down again, something about that day just lit a fire under me.”

Spurred by Trump

Political scientists are at the very start of understanding how much this year changed things — whether it kicked off a new era of more self-motivated candidates like Heng.

In May 2017, Loyola Marymount University’s Richard Fox and American University’s Jennifer Lawless put together a survey of more than 2000 college-educated, working adults — people they considered “potential candidates” for office.

“I would say that general conventional wisdom is probably still true,” Fox said. “Women are still less likely to sort of think of running, you know, simply and easily, ‘Oh that’s something I might like to do someday’ — have it in their consciousness.”

All of that said, he sees at least one potential sign of change. Among that relatively small group of people who said they had considered running for office, Democratic women were much more likely than other groups to say they first started thinking about running since Donald Trump was elected. And, indeed, Democrats account for around 3 in 4 women House candidates this year.

“There is a group of women, a small group of women, who are very activated by Trump’s election. So then the conventional wisdom wouldn’t apply to them,” he said. “So when the first person comes by or suggests, ‘Hey, you should come to this candidate training,’ they’re in quickly.”

Blips vs. lasting trends

The explosion in Democratic women’s energy does cement one longer-standing trend, Fox said: that of a growing difference between the number of women Democrats and the number of women Republicans.

“I do actually think the party divergence has gotten much, much bigger,” he said. “In our earlier research in 2001 and 2010, where we surveyed thousands of potential candidates the gender gap between Democrats and Republicans and men and women in terms of ambition was the same. It’s now it’s actually quite a bit smaller among Democrats.”

That gulf between the parties’ gender gaps has only widened this year.

Still, perhaps the bigger question is whether this year’s bump in the total number of women candidates is a blip, or whether it is a sign of more energized women in future elections.

One place to look for comparison is 1992, the so-called “year of the woman.” Democratic women in particular were galvanized that year, after watching a panel made up entirely of white men grill Anita Hill over her sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (who went on to be confirmed). As a result of that election, the number of women in Congress climbed by two-thirds.

“Unfortunately, in 1992, we didn’t see lasting change,” Walsh said.

While the numbers of women elected to federal and state office climbed sharply that year, Walsh says, those numbers slowed or even stagnated in the following years. Still, she’s hopeful that this year will be different.

“It feels like this moment is different — that there is potential for this to be more than a one-off, that the momentum and the energy behind these women running feels like it has the potential to last — you know, to have some legs,” she said.

One thing Walsh cautions against is overstating how big this year’s wave is. For one thing, a large share of women candidates are challenging incumbents — an uphill battle in most districts. In addition, while the number of women running is by far record-setting, men came out in droves, too.

“Let’s keep in mind that women made up only less than a quarter of the congressional candidates this cycle who filed,” she said. “Women are still underrepresented as candidates.”

Not only that, but many of those women who are running are challengers, facing the formidable task of trying to unseat incumbents.

If women House candidates win all of the races they’re favored to win, plus races they are competing in currently seen as toss-ups, they will go from making up 1 in 5 members of the House to 1 in 4.

But women make up more than half of Americans. Which is to say, there’s plenty of room to grow in the future.


Editor’s note: NPR is examining the role of women in the 2018 midterm elections all week. To follow more coverage and look back at how the role of women in the 2014 midterms was covered, click here.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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In an ‘out-of-school-time desert,’ organizers connect kids to opportunities

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Lisa Hall never did any extracurriculars while in school. She wants to change that for her two young children.

“I think it exposes them to new things and I hope they find out they’re passionate about something,” said Hall, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia mom used to send her kids to classes at the YMCA. There, she found the swimming lessons and dance classes she wanted.  With two kids, the costs quickly became untenable.  “If I wanted to choose dance, it might be anywhere from $20 to $50 per month, per kid. That can add up,” she said.

Affordable, high-quality options were hard to find. On Saturday, that changed for her.

“Normally, [ after-school programs] are super expensive and far so when I found [one that] was super close, I was super excited,” Hall said as she stood in a noisy room at the  Francis Myers Recreation Center in Southwest Philadelphia.

She had come to the Kingsessing rec center for an After School Activities Fair co-hosted by The After School Activities Partnership, a nonprofit that facilitates free and low-cost afterschool and summer clubs around the city, and Billy Penn, a local news website. The fair was produced with support from Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice that WHYY is also a part of.

Sara Morningstar, the Director of Programs at ASAP, said the organization chose Francis Myers because of the dearth of afterschool options in the area.

City officials consider Southwest Philadelphia to be an “out-of-school-time desert” because there are few high-quality organized afterschool programming options there compared to other sections of the city.

But children who live in these areas “should have the same access to chess teams or debate teams,” Morningstar said. “They should have the same access to those opportunities. School days are so structured and after-school programs let kids do what they want to do.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, ASAP served more than 5,000 kids in 351 total programs. The organization’s groups primarily focus on chess, debate, scrabble, and drama. Chess is their most popular activity with 2,000 kids. About 100 of them go to state competitions every year.

ASAP has a directory, in print and online, that showcases all their programs organized by zip code.

After a decade of volunteering with ASAP, John Green goes by “Johnny Scrabble.” Green spent 24 years in prison and it was there he said he discovered his love for the game. Through ASAP, he teaches young people to play Scrabble and trains them to compete across the state and nationally.

“I want kids to know, and use me as an example, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Green said. “It’s about where you’re going.”

WHYY is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly

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New Philly museum seeks to help women break through barriers to become fine artists

Andrea Walls is a digital artist who usually makes collages out of historic images, pre-existing pictures taken by other people. She had never taken her own pictures until the Women’s Mobile Museum project put a camera in her hand in February and told her she was going to have a show in just six months.

“It was overwhelming. I didn’t take a good picture until June,” she said. “So it was frightening.”

Walls has been thinking a lot about the movement of African-Americans throughout history — on the ships of the Middle Passage slave trade routes and through the forests of the Underground Railroad — and the traces they left in their wake. Her photos have no people in them, but are richly infused by the ghostly presence of people who have traveled though the scene: a dress floating in a river, shoes discarded along a path.

“It’s abstract and conceptual,” said Walls. “I hope the message comes through.”

The Women’s Mobile Museum is a year-long artist residency and exhibition project of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC). It selected ten emerging artists who had little to no access to art training, and gave them resources and opportunities to develop as fine-art photographers.

The artists were chosen after brief interviews to determine their desire to make art and their conditions – often economic — that prevent them from getting a formal arts education. The PPAC did not consider anyone’s portfolio, if they had one.

“It’s about an arts culture that has really made it felt that all people are not welcome,” said project director Lori Waselchuk. “Institutions have, for a long time, not sought out voices that aren’t from the western artistic traditions. The women have described very clearly that they have not felt welcome in the major arts institutions.”

Waselchuk came up with the idea of the Women’s Mobile Museum when she approached South African artist Zanele Muholi to do a residency at PPAC. She said Muholi – a sought-after artist whose self-portraiture has been acquired by MOMA, the Guggenheim, and the Tate in London — would only agree to the residency if it could benefit other women who are trying to break into the fine art field.

“We talked about it for several hours over the phone, and came up with the basis of the proposal,” said Waselchuk. The program not only helped the women to articulate their creative voice, but put them in front of curators and directors at the city’s major art institutions to introduce them to the larger art world.

During the residency, seven of the ten artists participated in the Barnes Foundation’s “Let’s Connect” exhibition with help from PPAC.

Giving opportunities and resources to women toward an art career was just the first half of the Women’s Mobile Museum; the second was to put their work in front of people who have little access to art. The “mobile” part of the museum is a movable feast of home-grown photography traveling into Philadelphia neighborhoods that are “art deserts.”

The first stop of the six-month exhibition tour is the Boys and Girls Club in Juniata Park. The venue was coordinated by Sister Elaine George of the Juniata Action Committee. She says there are no art programs in that neighborhood.

“My hope is, because it’s free, that people will come who cannot afford to go to a museum,” she said. “Because it’s in the neighborhood, people who don’t have access to transportation will come to the museum. Because of the different hours of the exhibit, I’m hoping people who are working during the day will have time to come.”

George also arranged an audio tour of the exhibition, featuring the voices of the 10 artists talking about their work, to give blind visitors access to the work.

The exhibition next travels to the Point Breeze neighborhood. Then, it will land in one of Philadelphia’s major art museums – the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Beginning in January, it will take over the PPAC gallery space in Kensington.

Another artist in the Women’s Mobile Museum, Danielle Morris, is an aspiring fine-art photographer.

“I had a Barbie camera as a kid,” she said. “Then I did disposable cameras in middle school.”

She started taking photography seriously two years ago when she got herself a real camera. She describes herself as self-taught. For the Women’s Mobile Museum, she made a series of moody, contemplative pictures about the West Philadelphia house where she has lived her whole life.

One of her pictures is of herself, bent over with her head in a dimly lit kitchen sink, surrounded by combs and bottles of hair products. She’s washing her hair.

“This image is the image that most black women find so familiar. This is how every black girl in American has had their hair washed since they were a child,” she said. “Some people that have come in here that are black women, and looked at these photos and said, ‘Wow, that looks familiar!’ That’s what this is about.”

Morris wants to make art that taps into the “collective black memory.”

Muholi included three of her own self-portraits to the show, made in Philadelphia during the residency.

After the six-month tour of the Women’s Mobile Museum, Waselchuk says the PPAC will continue to help the 10 artists pursue the life of an artist, with assistance digging up opportunities, writing grants, and publicizing work.

“There’s more than a strong chance the women will continue as a collective,” she said.

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Philly says it’s simple: Narcan saves lives. Knowing when to use it can be more complicated

On a 90-degree afternoon in July, in the shade of a tree next to the library in Kensington’s McPherson Square Park, I watched a couple sit down, and matter-of-factly prepare syringes, and inject heroin. The man injected in his arm, the woman in her neck.

The city of Philadelphia has tried to clean up the square — known as “Needle Park” — and ramped up the police presence. There was even a group of kids playing on a nearby Slip ‘N Slide that day. But this is still a scene that plays out everyday in this spot and the surrounding neighborhood.

I watched the couple from about 100 feet away, where I was getting ready to record a video interview. Once they had finished injecting, the two leaned back and relaxed, the woman resting against the man, and I turned my attention back to my interview. But after a while, I glanced back over and noticed the woman wasn’t looking so good. She was splayed out on top of the man with her neck tilted back, her mouth open. Her skin looked pale. The man was supporting her head, rubbing her breastbone, and checking her pulse.

The woman I was interviewing, Jasmine Johnson, is in recovery now, but was in active addiction on the streets of Kensington for six years. I looked to her face for cues, to see if my concern was warranted.

I had done enough reporting on overdoses that I thought I would know how to respond when I saw one. Plus, the city makes it sound simple: Billboards in SEPTA stations and along the highway advertise naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, reading, ‘Saving a life can be this easy.’ With the state Physician General’s standing order, anyone can pick up naloxone (also known by the brand name, Narcan) at a local pharmacy without a prescription.

But suddenly, in the face of a possible emergency, it all seemed more complicated than that.

Jasmine went over to check on the woman, and offer her naloxone, which she carries in her purse. But the man angrily refused it. Jasmine tapped the woman lightly on the side of her face, to see if she would wake up. She didn’t, but still, the man insisted she was fine.

“She’s breathing!” he yelled, defensively. He told Jasmine he didn’t need Narcan, and that he already had some.

“Do not give her Narcan,” he mumbled. “She would be so mad.”

To understand why someone who uses drugs might not want Narcan during a suspected overdose, it’s important to understand how it works.

When someone is given Narcan, usually through a nasal spray, it bumps the heroin or other opiates off the opioid receptors in the brain. That blocks the effects of the drugs — both the euphoria of a high, and the slowed breathing that cuts off oxygen to the brain. That’s why Narcan saves lives.

But, in that process, it can also send someone into instant withdrawal. Many people who use drugs say withdrawal is like having the worst flu of your life, complete with cold sweats, shakes, and vomiting. Many people’s addictions are fueled by avoiding this feeling.

So, the man didn’t want anyone to give the woman Narcan for her sake — so she didn’t suffer withdrawal — and for his own, so she wouldn’t be mad at him.

While I knew all of this in theory, it just hadn’t registered to me until that moment that someone would risk death to avoid withdrawal.

‘It’s not easy’

As we wrapped up the interview, the woman still looked pale and unconscious. I didn’t know what to do, and Jasmine could tell.

“That’s all you can do, is ask and keep moving,” Jasmine said with a shrug.

But was that really all we could do?

“It’s not easy,” said Allison Herens, harm reduction coordinator at Philadelphia’s Public Health Department. She conducts regular trainings about naloxone and how to administer it, and recently led one for about two-dozen people at the South Philadelphia Library on Broad Street.

“There are lots of different kinds of emergencies that happen on the street in any moment and it can be hard to discern if it’s actually an emergency or not,” she told the group.

Allison Herens, Harm Reduction Coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, demonstrates how to administer Narcan nasal spray. The city leads regular trainings on Narcan, its complications and its benefits, at libraries all over the city. (Nina Feldman/WHYY)

Herens stresses in her trainings that it’s important to make sure someone is actually overdosing before giving naloxone. She described a situation where someone might be nodding out, coming in and out of consciousness.

“The big thing to keep in mind with that person is, are they breathing? How does their color look? So they’ll start to get pale, grey – depending on the complexion, blue,” she explained.

Now, with the increased presence of fentanyl in the drug supply, Herens said the signs of an overdose are even more varied. Fentanyl often causes muscle spasms, or locked jaws in addition to the traditional signs she described.

She also confirmed that sending a drug user into withdrawal is a real concern, because if that person wakes up with those flu-like symptoms, he or she is going to try to get rid of them the fastest, cheapest way possible.

“If they wake up in full-blown withdrawal, they are not going to the hospital. They just are not,” Herens said. “They are going to go run as fast as they can to try to use again, and I know because I’ve seen it happen.”

If you suspect someone is overdosing, call 911

The first thing you should do if you suspect someone is overdosing, Herens says, is call 911.

Jeremiah Laster, a deputy chief at the Philadelphia fire department, whose EMS workers gave out Narcan over 5,000 times last year, agrees.

“Sometimes you have people that when you administer Narcan to them, they become combative because they’re upset because you sort of blew their high,” said Laster.

Because of this, he said there are some situations where it’s better for a civilian to stand back and wait for professionals to arrive.

“Certainly if you had someone that was like 6 foot 4, and 300 pounds, you’d want to be very careful how you wake that person up,” he advised. “You have to prepared to protect yourself.”

There are other reasons to call the police, too. Herens is careful to note that naloxone only works temporarily — it starts to wear off after about 30 minutes, and nearly dissipates after 90, depending on the person’s metabolism and the strength of the drugs. While the person’s body will likely have processed enough of the opiates by then that they are unlikely to stop breathing again, the much more powerful fentanyl makes that less of a guarantee.

Herens said fentanyl’s strength can also mean that multiple doses of Narcan are required to revive someone in the first place. And once you’ve given the nasal spray, she said it’s even better if you perform rescue breathing on the person, too. That’s because if they’ve already stopped breathing, any measure that could help resume oxygen flow faster will only help reduce risk for brain damage, or death.

For these reasons, she says it’s important to know from the start you have paramedics coming with back-up Narcan.

Ultimately, that day in McPherson Square, I did call 911.

Another woman nearby told the woman who was passed out that the police were on their way and that they had Narcan. And as soon as she heard that, the woman bolted straight upright. She and the man got up and left, but not without getting angry at the woman who told them the police were coming. There was a little pushing and shoving, and then, all three were gone.

Herens estimates she has given Narcan about seven or eight times — mostly during a recent spike in overdoses this summer, not long after the day I was in the park. She said she understands it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that someone might get angry with you for trying to prevent them from dying of an overdose.

Still, Herens tries to keep it in perspective. At the end of the day, someone being irritated is a small price to pay.

“I always just try to remember that in this moment I am saving this person’s life,” she said. “They don’t have to like me.”

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After another twist, Pa. Supreme Court to hear Lower Merion tax case

In 2016, aviation attorney and Lower Merion resident Arthur Wolk sued his school district claiming it misrepresented its finances in order to secure a tax increase without voter approval.

More than two years later, that case has mutated into a civil procedure clash that will go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday. The case has even attracted the attention of the state ACLU, which filed an amicus brief backing the school district’s right to appeal the original decision.

By the time the legal dust clears, Wolk’s wonky crusade could end up altering local tax policy and the ability of appellants to make speedy appeals to higher courts. All the while, residents in one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest enclaves wonder whether they’ll get a major refund.

So, how did we get here?

The original case has to do with whether Lower Merion broke the law in 2015-16 and 2016-17 when it raised property taxes more than 2.4 percent. A state law known colloquially as “Act 1” says school districts can’t raise taxes more than 2.4 percent unless they receive approval from district voters or a special waiver from the state. To get that waiver, a district has to prove it really needs the extra taxpayer money.

Lower Merion has done this repeatedly, but Wolk believes they’ve illegally spun their financial documents in order to get the waivers and circumvent voters.

Hundreds of other Pennsylvania school districts have also gotten waivers from the state. That’s why this case is crucial for local education advocates, and why organizations such as the Pennsylvania School Board Association, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials filed briefs supporting Lower Merion.

But in August of 2016, a trial court judge in Montgomery County sided with Wolk.

Faced with the prospect of paying back money to taxpayers, Lower Merion School District appealed the decision.

And that’s where the second dispute arises.

Lower Merion’s lawyers from the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath tried to appeal immediately using something called an “interlocutory appeal.” Such appeals are lodged when the case is still pending, at least in some regard.

Wolk said the district’s lawyers made a mistake. They should have filed something called “post-trial motions,” which are a chance for the trial judge to review his or her decision and suss out any errors before the case potentially goes to a higher court.

Filing post-trial motions can take a while, said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. An interlocutory appeal is generally quicker, but only available to plaintiffs in situations where the court filed a preliminary injunction rather than a permanent injunction.

Again, the courts have sided with Wolk.

The Commonwealth Court said the district should have filed post-trial motions. Since it didn’t, it’s appeal is invalid.

The district and its lawyers have now appealed that decision to the state’s Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments Wednesday on whether the district properly appealed the first decision.

It’s confusing, but it drives at an issue that Roper says is important to organizations like the ACLU. In cases where the ACLU believes the government is doing some immediate harm to a group of plaintiffs, the ACLU may want to bring a speedy appeal instead of waiting for a trial court judge to sift through post-trial motions. If the Supreme Court sides with Wolk, it could hamstring the ACLU in future cases.

“That’s a major thing,” said Roper. “If we are bringing a case for injunctive relief it’s because we think there’s something the government’s doing that’s harming people.”

The ACLU and an organization that represents Pennsylvania defense lawyers filed briefs supporting Lower Merion School District, even though the ACLU, Roper says, has no interest in the original tax case.

Wolk, in his brief to the state Supreme Court, claimed the ACLU only got involved because Roper used to work at Drinker Biddle & Reath, the law firm representing Lower Merion School District.

“[T]his is a payback to her old bosses,” Wolk wrote in his brief. “Since when does the ACLU embrace illegal conduct by government?”

Roper laughed at that accusation.

“Mr. Wolk figured out that I worked at Drinker Biddle & Reath 14 years ago … and decided that that’s the only reason we filed a brief, which is not how the ACLU works,” said Roper. “When we file a brief it’s because the ACLU has an interest in the case.”

(The ACLU, Roper said, actually disagrees with some parts of Lower Merion’s argument, even though it believes the district should have been granted an appeal.)

The “payback” flap is just the latest little twist in a case that seems full of them. And hovering over all of this are potentially major implications for Pennsylvania school districts considering tax hikes.

If Wolk wins again in the state Supreme Court, Lower Merion School District will likely have to refund residents and other districts will have to think twice during the budget season.

“That would be a signal to other school districts to go to accurate budgeting and not this bizarre budgeting methodology that they currently use,” said Wolk.

It would be a signal, but not the strongest signal possible. If Lower Merion can’t appeal the trial court decision, the legal record on this matter will consist of just one lower-court decision. Education observers would have to wait for another, a similar case to arise before potentially hearing what the Commonwealth Court and Supreme Court think about these type of tax hikes.

If Wolk loses, however, and the district gets to appeal, we’ll hear from the Commonwealth Court and eventually, perhaps, the state Supreme Court on the merit of Wolk’s original case. That kind of legal path could establish a much firmer precedent for what districts have to prove when they seek state waivers.

Then there’s always the possibility the state Supreme Court mulls the case before it right now and issues an opinion with clear signals about the original tax case.

Everything is on the table for a weird case that keeps getting weirder.

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During national walkout, Philly survivors of sexual violence show solidarity

The allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the latest scandal to invoke the #MeToo movement.

After Tarana Burke, the founder of the movement, called for a national walkout to show solidarity with the two women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, about 70 people heeded the call, gathering outside Philadelphia City Hall.

Women were encouraged to wear black and take photos of the event then share them using the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors.

“We have a courageous woman reporting her assaut to all of us,” said activist and City Council candidate Tonya Bah. “We stand with her.”

In the weeks after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, California professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward alleging that he sexually assaulted her while they were teenagers.

Over the weekend, Deborah Ramirez came forward claiming Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while the two were in college at Yale University.  

City Councilman Derek Green was one of the few men in attendance. He said it’s his duty as a man to show support for survivors.

“When anyone speaks up we should give them the opportunity to have their voices heard and we need to fully investigate what happened,” he said.

The event also served as an opportunity to call out state Sen. Daylin Leach, who was accused by multiple women of inappropriate touching and conversations late last year.

Erica Woods, one of Leach’s accusers, recounted how he allegedly groped her leg.

Woods said those abusing their power are on notice.

“To all abusers and predators, I give a warning,” she said. “We are organizing, we are taking names, and your time is up.”

Both Kavanaugh and Ford are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

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Senator Collins: Kavanaugh’s 2nd accuser should be allowed to testify

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says the 2nd woman to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct should be interviewed under oath.

Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party. Kavanaugh denies the allegation, calling it “a smear, plain and simple.”

Collins says investigators on the Senate Judiciary Committee should reach out to Ramirez for an interview. That interview would be separate from Thursday’s hearing with Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school. Kavanaugh denies both allegations.

Collins is considered a key swing vote on Kavanaugh. If she and another Republican oppose him, his nomination is likely to fail.

Collins says she has “not made a decision” about whether to vote for Kavanaugh. She says the hearing Thursday “is an important one.”

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called for Kavanaugh’s confirmation process to be halted after Ramirez’s accusation was published in The New Yorker. She said the FBI should investigate.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is asking why Democrats didn’t bring forward the allegations earlier, saying, “It’s strange how at the last minute all these accusations come up.”

President Donald Trump is standing by his Supreme Court nominee.

Trump told reporters Monday after signing a new trade agreement with South Korea at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that “we hope he is going to be confirmed.”

Trump adds, “It would be sad indeed if something happened to reroute that.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Kavanaugh will receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate “in the near future.”

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Man charged with series of Delaware sexual assaults, robberies

A 47-year-old Claymont-area man has been charged in a series of sexual assaults and robberies involving female victims in suburban New Castle County.

A grand jury indicted Kwesi Hudson on charges of kidnapping, robbery, assault, unlawful sexual contact, rape, burglary, home invasion, aggravated menacing, and terroristic threatening.

Kwesi Hudson (Courtesy of New Castle County Police Department)

Police said Hudson has been incarcerated in Pennsylvania since late May 2017. Last year, multiple media outlets reported Hudson held up a CVS in Delaware County at gunpoint, and was sentenced in August to two and a half to 43 years in prison.

New Castle County police chief Col. Vaughn Bond said he is relieved Hudson has not been able to attack more victims.

“Over 15 months ago, our communities were paralyzed. We were struck with a serial subject responsible for sexual assaults and robberies of random innocent female victims,” Bond said during a news conference at police headquarters.

“As a police officer, I can assure you there’s no greater fear than having to confront and investigate cases of this magnitude,” he said. “As a community member with a sister, and daughters, and a mother, and aunts that live in this community I was also scared for them because these were random attacks.”

Vaughn and other authorities did not take questions.

The first incident occurred Feb. 13, 2017, when a woman was abducted at gunpoint in the parking lot of the Top of the Hill Apartments near Claymont. She was physically and sexually assaulted and forced to withdraw money from several ATMs before being returned to her apartment.

On Feb. 19, a woman was kidnapped at gunpoint in the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments near Pike Creek. She was physically and sexually assaulted and forced to withdraw money from an ATM. She escaped and ran to a business where 911 was called.

A third incident took place March 3, when a woman was approached in the common area of the Bluffs apartment complex in Newark. Hudson allegedly held her at gunpoint and forced her into her apartment. Her boyfriend was in the apartment and confronted Hudson, who fled.

Police say a collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, plus tips from the public, led them to their suspect.

Bond said he’s asking anyone with information on Hudson to contact the New Castle County police at 302-573-2800.

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Breaking Poverty: A need to create access to jobs, training

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

Positive male influences were hard to come by in Nyhein Webb’s Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood.

“Basically, everybody just looks up to what you see in your environment,” said Webb, who lives with his grandmother.

“A lot of my friends have single-parent households where their dad is locked up or he died in the streets and it’s just their mom. We didn’t have positive male models.”

After Webb saw several young men in his community go to prison or lose their lives to violence, he decided he needed to follow a different path.

He signed up for Year Up, a national workforce development program that connects urban young adults aged 18 to 24 with companies who need their talent.

Year Up is one of many initiatives — including one funded by the city and another funded by town-gown partnerships — that aim to connect local residents with living wage jobs.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jim Kenney launched a citywide workforce development strategy that seeks to address the poverty that is impacting Philadelphia. The initiative focuses on three goals: preparing Philadelphia residents with the skills employers need, addressing barriers that prevent people from accessing meaningful opportunities, and ensuring the city’s workforce system is more coordinated and effective. The strategy calls for $13 million to be invested annually in workforce education and training to prepare Philadelphia residents for middle-skills jobs.

The new strategy is being overseen by the Office of Workforce Development.

“I think that one of the charges of this office is to engage employers to be able to speak to the systems that we have created in Philadelphia so that people on every rung in the ladder of their career get the support that they need,” said the office’s Executive Director Sheila Ireland.

“The charge of this office is to build a pathway for folks so wherever they are in their careers they have some understanding of how to get to the next level.”

City officials are working with business leaders to establish or expand industry partnerships in seven opportunity industries identified by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, including health care, retail and hospitality, early childhood education, technology services, business and financial services, construction and infrastructure, and manufacturing and logistics.

The middle-skills job gap

Meg Shope Koppel, chief research officer of Philadelphia Works, a nonprofit organization that funds and oversees employment and training services, said there is a huge demand for employees to fill middle-skill jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

“Middle-skill positions really have a range of post-secondary credentialing, vocational programs or two-year degrees and they can result in some really high-paying jobs,” Koppel said.

“We know that there is huge opportunity in this city for middle-skills (jobs) that are not being filled right now. We also know that a lot of our retail and hospitality workers are not going to stay in those fields and that work experience in and of itself, is really valuable and can be converted into a good starting point for them training to move into skilled jobs.”

The largest occupations in the metro area with a median wage above $15 an hour that don’t require a bachelor’s degree include general office clerks, customer service representatives, secretaries and administrative assistants, front line office supervisors, bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks, wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, and general maintenance and repair workers, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I think opportunity is driven by three things,” said Keith Wardrip, community development research manager of the Philadelphia Fed.

“The availability of the jobs in the region and what do they pay being the first factor. The second is the skills present in the labor force and the third is how the match is made between workers looking for jobs and employers trying to hire.”

The education gap

Many employers often recruit workers from the traditional pool of young graduates with four-year degrees, said Malik Brown, Associate Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Community Impact at Peirce College.

While the percentage of African Americans with college degrees are growing, a racial gap still remains in educational attainment. A 2016 U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that just 23 percent of African Americans have a college degree.

Brown said the higher education and employer communities should look at nontraditional populations through a different lens.

Peirce encourages its corporate partners to consider hiring adults with more than 10 years of working experience who don’t have a college degree but may be working toward earning it.

“That is very different value proposition because it’s getting companies to think and behave differently around how they attract talent and how to strategically think about partnering with organizations like Peirce around talent,” Brown said.

“We’ve taken a different approach to really go in, get the know the (industries) get to know our regional employers and really get them to see the value of bringing in someone who is 35-to-40-years-old, (has) 10 to 15 years of experience and really see them as a strategic part of their talent pool or talent pipeline.”

Brown noted that 70 percent of Peirce’s students are African American and many are working adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Peirce has training initiatives that focus on getting long-term unemployed adults back into the workforce, Brown said. One example is the Urban Tech Jobs program, a partnership between Peirce and the Urban League of Philadelphia, that offers accelerated IT training and work with a career and life coach.

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields have the highest earning potential and they also have the lowest unemployment rate and also the highest rates when it comes to job expansion over the next couple of years,” said Sherry Wherry, program manager, Urban Tech Jobs.

“Getting an IT job is really the best opportunity for a client who’s looking to keep up in the times that we are in. When you look at society as a whole, everything is technology driven.”

Recognizing that the health care is another burgeoning sector, Peirce recently launched a free 10-week training session for low- to moderate-income adults with at least one child that is supported by a $60,000 grant from United Way. Participants learn skills needed for customer service positions in the non-clinical health care industry. According to Brown, these positions often pay a starting salary upwards of $39,000 annually.

Peirce faculty and career development office administrators are leading course instruction in areas such as customer service and emotional intelligence. Participating students receive financial literacy training, parenting support services and mental and emotional wellness support.

Bridging the gaps

Nyhein Webb was enrolled in the Year Up program for a year. The program paid for him to take business courses at Peirce College and set him up with an internship at wealth management firm BNY Mellon in King of Prussia.

Webb graduated from the program in July and scored a good-paying job offer with BNY Mellon. The 20-year-old currently works full time in the company’s fraud department.

“Without Year Up, I know that I probably wouldn’t have gotten this offer,” said Webb, who is a graduate of Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School.

“Year Up has been a big help. This is big because most people go to college for four years and get an opportunity like this, and Year Up was able to grant me this opportunity in one year and I don’t have a degree.”

Webb plans to return to Peirce College to pursue his bachelor’s degree in business and eventually become an entrepreneur.

Webb also wants to be a positive force in his community.

He lost two friends to violence while he was in the Year Up program.

He wants to show the youth in his neighborhood what can come from going to school and getting an education.

“I just try to talk to the young kids in my neighborhood and guide them away from the streets,” he said.

Melinda Brown, site director of Year Up Greater Philadelphia, said the program is instrumental in closing the opportunity divide and connecting young adults without college degrees to good-paying jobs.

Ninety percent of the initiative’s graduates are employed and or enrolled in post-secondary education within four months of completing the program, according to Year Up’s website. Employed graduates earn an average starting salary of $38,000 per year.

Working on more bridges

About 40 years ago, half of the jobs in the five-county region were in the city, said John Dodds, executive director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. Now only about 25 percent are in the city and the rest are in the surrounding counties.

Dodds said about 32 percent of the jobs in the region don’t require a college degree and about 190,000 people are “reverse commuting” — commuting from the city to the suburbs — for work.

Some commuters face the challenge of having to ride multiple SEPTA buses to get to job sites in the suburban counties and some bus schedules are not convenient for workers who have late schedules. It takes about 90 minutes on SEPTA to commute to 75 percent of the suburban jobs.

“What we really need to do as a city and a region is to figure out how to make these jobs accessible to people that don’t have cars and are dependent on mass transit,” Dodds said. “The real issue is the mass transit system was designed in 1970 when all the jobs were in the city and everybody was coming in, and it worked very well.”

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project has been advocating for funding to support reverse commute options for inner city residents. The organization recently announced that the City Council budget contained an appropriation of $55,000 for its commuter options program that provides cars and vans to local residents so they can carpool to work in the suburbs.

“Nobody has really had an answer for reducing poverty,” Dodds said. “There is no one thing that is going to solve all the problems, but we feel like this would be a good step if we could dramatically increase people’s access to these opportunities in the suburbs.”

WHYY is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly

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At Cosby sentencing hearing, Constand family says he ruined lives

When it came time to address the court at Bill Cosby’s sentencing, main accuser Andrea Constand sat in the witness stand, a place she’s been twice before, and spoke for less than a minute.

“Your honor, I have testified. I have given you my victim impact statement,” she told Judge Steven O’Neill during Monday’s sentencing hearing. “The jury heard me. Mr. Cosby heard me, and all I’m asking for is justice as the court sees fit.”

If the court listens to the prosecution, 81-year-old Cosby will receive the maximum possible punishment under the law of 10 years in state prison.

Cosby, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said, “has shown no acceptance of responsibility for his actions. No remorse,” Steele told the court. “He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.”

But Cosby’s defense lawyer Joseph Green pushed back, saying Cosby’s age, disability and blindness makes the prospect of re-offending remote. And so, Green asked the judge to hand Cosby a sentence of house arrest.

Green suggested that “the court of public opinion” has been tantamount to Cosby being stoned by villagers. “Everyone was encouraged to pick up a stone…that’s why we have the rule of law,” Green said.

O’Neill said Cosby’s three aggravated indecent assault convictions would merge into one for sentencing, meaning a decade of incarceration is the statutory maximum.

Earlier in the hearing, a fuller picture of the toll exacted by Bill Cosby’s 2004 sexual assault of Constand became clear, as her parents and older sister told the court about years of court battles and coming to terms with a “nightmare.”

All described a sunny personality overshadowed by a traumatic event. “She seemed depressed, vulnerable, slow to react to questions and had become detached from our family unit,” testified her father, Andrew Constand. Tearfully, Gianna Constand, Andrea’s mother, described slow alienation from friends and family as a result of repeated media scrutiny, and attacks by Cosby’s publicists and lawyers, both in the court and outside of it.

“He basically protected himself at the cost of ruining many lives,” she said.

Cosby’s sentencing hearing began Monday afternoon, after O’Neill heard testimony about whether Cosby should be labeled a sexually violent predator under Pennsylvania law. That question remains open because the defense was unprepared to call its expert witness to the stand.

The defense offered letters in support for Mr. Cosby, yet did not call a single witness during the hearing.

It is possible that Cosby himself will address the court on Tuesday, his lawyer said.

Green, during his argument, raised something the DA has worked to avoid during the long Cosby episode: that as a candidate for district attorney, Steele campaigned on bringing Cosby to justice. That violated rules of professional conduct, Green said, condemning the judgements against Cosby as “mob rule.” He also indicated that there were “substantial legal questions” that leave room for an appeal.

Green drew upon Cosby’s precipitous career trajectory, from public-housing to a barrier-busting career as a black comedian, to ask for leniency during his twilight years. The 81-year-old entertainer should receive a non-incarceration penalty due to four mitigating factors, according to Green: his advanced age, his blindness, his lack of prior convictions, and the fact that Cosby paid a $3.4 million civil settlement to Constand.

“Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except maybe to themselves,” said Green.

Steele argued Cosby should serve a maximum sentence of five to ten years in state prison and pay a $25,000 fine, as well as cover the costs of the prosecution and trial, which county officials say is around half-a-million dollars, a price tag that encompasses the cost of two lengthy trials.

That sentence hinges not only on the hardship borne by Constand and her family, said Steele, but also Cosby’s failure to show remorse.

To the suggestion that Cosby is no longer a danger in his advanced age, Steele reminded the court of how the world-famous comedian attacked Constand at his Cheltenham mansion.

“He’s too old to drug someone and stick his hand in her? He’s too old to do that? No.” said an impassioned Steele, raising his voice. “Given the opportunity, I have no doubt he’d do it again.”

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