“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Growing up in West Philadelphia, De’Wayne Drummond had an abundance of role models around him.
His mother was a judge of elections who volunteered for Head Start. His grandmother was a school teacher; his grandfather, a committeeperson in his ward. As Drummond grew up, he became aware of and looked up to leaders on the national stage: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Barack Obama.
They inspired Drummond, now 40, to want to build our city up, as he has done in his roles as chairman of the 24th Ward Democratic Executive Committee since 2010, and as president of the Mantua Civic Association since 2012. Drummond also works for the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Early Childhood Education, as a parent engagement assistant.
“I looked at those role models as motivation,” and felt compelled to uphold their legacy, he says.
“If you could come out and sweep in front of your door and you can convince your neighbor to come out and sweep outside of the door, you’re already into community organizing,” Robinson says. “That’s where it starts out: convincing your neighbor to work with you in doing a chore and doing an improvement.”
Fellow community organizer Leon Robinson Jr., says that he’s been influenced by countless leaders throughout his lifetime in Philadelphia, but one in particular comes to mind: The late Pennsylvania State Rep. David P. Richardson Jr.
“I ran across a lot, a lot, of [inspiring] people, but Dave Richardson was one of the top ones. He was committed,” Robinson says of the Democrat who was elected in 1973 and served 11 terms, until he died while still in office, in 1995.
Robinson, 69, spent two decades as a writer and photographer for the Germantown Courier; when the paper folded, someone threw his name in a hat to become a community organizer, and he jumped right in, working as a coordinator for his local NAC (neighborhood advisory committee).
In 2017, he started hosting workshops to convene other community organizers to learn from one another and from guest speakers, calling the sessions Iron Sharpens Iron—a nod to the Proverbs verse, and an acknowledgement of how neighborly collaboration uplifts everyone.
Iron Sharpens Iron goes digital
Now, with the pandemic putting in-person gatherings on hold, Drummond and Robinson have teamed up to take their passion and intergenerational friendship to the cyber airwaves. Today, they’re debuting a podcast, Iron Sharpens Iron, what the men call “a jawn on grassroots community organizing.” It strives to empower every Philadelphian to realize their power to make a meaningful difference in their community.
“It starts on your block. It starts right outside your door. If you could come out and sweep in front of your door and you can convince your neighbor to come out and sweep outside of the door, you’re already into community organizing,” Robinson says. “That’s where it starts out: convincing your neighbor to work with you in doing a chore and doing an improvement.”
The series, which is funded by Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), features local community leaders from all corners of the city sharing their advice and firsthand experiences. It highlights the power of community organizing, which infamously invited mockery and criticism around former Pres. Obama’s history with the work in Chicago years before he ran for office.
“Building power for Black and Brown communities is the cornerstone of an equitable Philadelphia, and community organizers are its heart and soul,” explains Zakya Hall, PACDC’s membership and communications manager, of her group’s decision to dive into the already teeming podcast sea. “Many organizers risk burning out because they pour everything into this work, and that can feel isolating at times. During this pandemic, we all desperately want to feel connected, but no one wants to do another Zoom meeting. This version of Iron Sharpens Iron is so exciting because it meets people where they are and when they have the time. It’s making information, resources, and community stories more accessible for the folks who need to hear them.”
The first Iron Sharpens Iron guests
The kickoff episode features Majeedah Rashid, the beloved longtime leader of the Nicetown CDC, who the men refer to as “a soldier in the fight for community organizers.” She delves into topics ranging from the need to tap younger people for the role of block captains to the nuanced dance involved in connecting people with social services without making them dependent upon them indefinitely.
Rashid says she’ll always proudly embrace her work, deriving pride in walking in the same footsteps as the former president, whom she calls “the top community organizer.”
“When we do Iron Sharpens Iron, we bring people who inspire other people to start taking action, to keep taking action, and to never stop,” Robinson says.
Another episode features Jen Devor, a South Philly block captain, committeeperson, member of her local school’s friends-of group, founder of the new nonprofit Better Civics and occasional Citizen contributor, which helps people understand their power to make a difference in their community. She talks about the life-changing impact of her high school civics class, the way in which it helped her find her calling, and her belief that “one person can make a difference, can have an impact.”
“It’s not just about one person,” Devor says, “but being one person who can bring others in.”
There’s an episode with Iliana Dominguez-Franco, director of Sustainable Communities Initiative at Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM); in it, she opens up about her childhood in L.A., the fear that came with growing up as part of an undocumented family, and how her experiences led her to want to advocate for people who are too often left out of policy conversations. “There are no downsides of building community with people,” she rightly says.
Derrick Pratt Sr., a Mantua native, is the manager of Community Connectors at People’s Emergency Center CDC, the founder/owner of PC Radio Live, and a co-founder of We Embrace Fatherhood. He’s organized community events from criminal record expungements to health, fitness, and sports clinics. During his podcast episode, he talks about his grandmother having been a block captain, his mother organizing block parties, the power and potential of youth in Philadelphia.
His motto: Why should you be content being a product of your environment, when it is so much more fulfilling to be productive in your environment?
“It means actions speak louder than words,” he says. “The majority of my younger years, I spent it around older people getting wisdom. And now that I am of age, I spend a lot of time around the youth, sharing wisdom. So that’s where my slogan really comes from: Why be a product of it, when you can go out there when you can help the environment flourish?”
It’s all about connecting the dots
There are common themes that run throughout all of the podcasts: the need to make community involvement simpler and more welcoming; the urgency of addressing issues like gentrification; the importance of getting neighbors involved in voting, educating our communities about why local elections matter for concerns in our own backyards.
Drummond and Robinson are particularly committed to sharing wisdom across neighborhoods, to getting people out of their silos and listening to one another. We may be a city of neighborhoods, but there’s power in stepping outside of our bubbles.
“It’s all about connecting the dots,” Drummond says.
Robinson says that it’s about opening doors and catalyzing action. “When we do Iron Sharpens Iron, we bring people who inspire other people to start taking action, to keep taking action, and to never stop,” he says.
The PA primary is coming up on May 18. Are you all set to vote?