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Decolonize Philly hosted a workshop at The Rotunda on Jan. 17 (Photo Courtesy of W. E. B. Du Bois Movement School for Abolition and Reconstruction).

Representatives from several Penn-adjacent groups spoke at a Jan. 17 workshop and community gathering hosted by Decolonize Philly. 

The event, which drew nearly one hundred attendees to The Rotunda at 40th and Walnut Street, featured several speakers representing activists from across the Penn and West Philadelphia communities. Groups represented included Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, Save the UC Townhomes, and the Philly Palestine Coalition — all of which have held demonstrations on or near Penn’s campus in recent months. 

Keyssh Datts, Decolonize Philly founder and the organizer of the event, described the organization as an environmental justice organization dedicated to fighting against what it describes as injustice.

“We want to bring people together to unite our forces to spread more awareness of what’s happening across the country,” Datts told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The event began with representatives from each group in attendance sharing their causes with attendees. It continued with a ten-minute "mixer" opportunity, during which Datts instructed attendees to introduce themselves to those around them and ask each other "how we build the revolution" and how groups can assist one another's activism. 

“We want to continue to build 'people power’ and have a collective conversation and prolonged activism,” Decolonize Philly educational facilitator Essence Gaines said. 

2023 College graduate and Police Free Penn member Andres Gonzalez-Bonillas emphasized the importance of unity between groups, explaining that "the conditions we live in necessitate these organizations talking to each other and building coalitions and power to create the world we want."

“These are people fighting for the people around us and for people that Penn is taking from,” he said. “[This is] our responsibility as students and as people who continue to benefit from Penn and the degree.” 

The event was also used as an opportunity for organizers to update the community on their efforts. Sheldon Davids, an organizer for Save the UC Townhomes, told event participants that the group remained committed to its mission.

Save the UC Townhomes is a resident-led group working with Penn and Drexel students to preserve an affordable housing development located at 40th and Market St. Controversy over the UC Townhomes has risen since 2021, when Altman Management Company announced plans to sell the property to a developer who would use the space for housing and life sciences.

The group has held numerous demonstrations on Penn's campus, including interrupting Convocation in 2022 and holding a vigil at the townhomes property in December, which was later joined by a pro-Palestinian march through Philadelphia. Davids said that the group will not stop organizing as long as the townhomes lot remains intact.

“That space is a legacy of the Black Bottom,” he said, referring to the historically Black neighborhood that was displaced in the 1960s. He emphasized the townhomes' importance in providing a space for people of lower incomes “to live in dignity in a community that sustains the kind of families that prevent the loss of generations of our youth.”

College junior Taryn Flaherty and Bryn Mawr College senior Kaia Chau, the co-founders of Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, also took part in the event. They expressed solidarity with the other groups in attendance on behalf of SPOC. 

“[Developers] know our community’s love for our homes and each other is stronger than their money,” Flaherty said. 

Decolonize Philly will host five additional workshops and community gatherings over the next six months in an effort to continue their unification efforts, Gaines told the DP. The next one will occur on Feb. 28.