Serving the People ‘Boxes, Not Bullets,’ at the Community Healing Garden

The Community Healing Garden on the corner of 31st and Wharton Streets was formed after tragedy struck the block on July 15, 2020. On that day, neighbors found  a woman’s body in a plastic bin in the vacant lot at that corner. Community leader Boogie Rose lives near there: “Not only did we take that as disrespect to another human being, we took that as disrespect to our community… Not only did they think this person was trash, they thought our block was trash… So we wanted to take back and fight back.” 

Boogie acted immediately, securing donations to turn the lot into a community garden. Just three days later, neighbors came together to reclaim the vacant lot. They started by cleaning up trash, cutting grass and weeds, and planting flowers and trees.

Over the past year, the community has maintained the garden as a space for healing and support. Organizations like Philly Thrive regularly work to maintain and expand the garden. Block neighbor Mr. Shan offered his time by building fences for the garden. Every Saturday, Society’s Roses, which is made up of Boogie and her mom, Momma Rose, sets up tables for free food distribution at the garden. The slogan “boxes, not bullets” rings through the street: Boogie’s reminder to everyone to spread love and support for each other and to fight to end community violence. The Community Healing Garden is open for anyone to spend time with their  neighbors and enjoy the greenery. What started as a way to persevere through trauma has become a beacon of love and support for the Grays Ferry community. This would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of Boogie Rose.

Boogie Rose is a teacher, mother, poet, and organizer.The community in Greys Ferry is constantly in struggle: against community violence, against gentrification; struggling for access to healthy fresh food,  quality education, and more. Even through her own personal struggles, Boogie has remained steadfast with her neighbors. 

Every week Boogie shows up for her community to offer material support, but more importantly to meet with her neighbors in-person, to learn about their experiences, and to struggle through these experiences with them.

Boogie also realizes the limitations of having just one leader; therefore, her goal is to empower people on every block to set up their own healing and organizing spaces, whether by reclaiming space for a community garden or any other form of direct action. This desire to empower others to be leaders themselves is clearthrough Boogie’s work. Not only does she make time to work with “any and every organization,” but, more importantly, Boogie pushes everyone she meets to start conversations on their own blocks and find their own ways to offer support in struggle.

Community Love Day

On Saturday May 8, Society’s Roses and the Philly Liberation Center worked with New Voices for Reproductive Justice and Philly Thrive to organize a Community Love Day at the garden.

New Voices supplied essential material resources for the neighborhood; diapers, menstrual products, and emergency contraceptives. 

Ceshia Elmore with New Voices explains the importance of this work,“When you think about reproductive justice it’s really about women having the right to say what does and does not happen to your bodies, but also this idea of empowering, strengthening, and educating the black woman, and how multi-faceted that is. Reproductive justice encompasses social justice, LGBTQ rights, and relief efforts; everything that your community needs ties into reproductive justice.”

Philly Thrive is a grassroots environmental justice organization focused on empowering people to create the material changes needed to ensure healthy communities. Their first campaign focused on the right to breathe clean air and the negative impacts from the oil refinery in Southwest Philadelphia. Now the organization has expanded to fight for the right to thrive, through work in housing, food access, and other areas of basic need, based on the understanding that the environment is intertwined with all areas of community life. Philly Thrive has successfully organized a coalition with over 20 other organizations that is crafting a Community Benefits Agreement with the refinery’s new owner, Hilco. This is an important step toward allowing greater decision making power to working neighborhoods in Philadelphia. 

Kehna Kirkland with Philly Thrive explains the importance of events like the Community Love Day, “We need to come together more, all of us, so people get a variety of different things that they can take in in their brain, in their hands, in their bodies. We need all these things to come together, I really like that all these different organizations came out here because this is where it’s at.” 

Bringing organizations together to meet the people where they are is one way to build stronger relationships with neighbors, especially when offering programs and support in struggle.

Society’s Roses and the Philly Liberation Center will be organizing a Community Love Day at the Healing Garden once every month. The next Community Love Day is scheduled for Saturday, June 12. It is our goal to bring new organizations to these events each month in order to meet different needs in the community. Supporting our neighbors through all kinds of struggle is one way that we hope to build solidarity in the community and make our neighborhoods stronger. Anyone interested in getting involved immediately can come to the Community Healing Garden any Saturday at 10 AM ‘human time’ to help maintain the garden and pass out food and other resources to our neighbors.