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Members of UMOJA and its constituent groups assembled feminine hygiene care packages for incarcerated Black women in Philadelphia on Feb. 19. 

Credit: Chenyao Liu

UMOJA hosted a panel on gentrification and land justice at the Max Kade Center on Wednesday, featuring the remarks of Philadelphia community activists. 

Brian Peterson, director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, moderated the discussion between four panelists: Keyssh, founder of The Decolonization Project, abolitionist and Ph.D student at Temple University Sterling Johnson; writer and abolitionist Kermit O, and College senior Janay Draughn. The speakers discussed personal anecdotes, gentrification, decolonization, and abolition in front of an audience of around 15 students and faculty members. 

Keyssh is an artist and community organizer from Southwest Philadelphia. She began the panel by discussing Penn’s relationship with the surrounding community.

“Penn has shown itself to be a predator to the Philadelphia community,” Keyssh said. “To think that Penn has anything to bring, besides destructive power — that's often very arrogant. That is the privilege of this colonial model of building space first by conquering and taking it."

Keyssh explored the relationship between schools as an educational institution and as a business, describing the system as one of "domination" and "money exploitation."

Draughn spoke on the issue of gentrification, stating that it has been a recurring theme of a “colonial project taking local land and reshaping it." 

Draughn, who moderated a conference on Penn’s relationship with Black Philadelphians last semester, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that her local activism was influenced by her upbringing. She said that Black students have a responsibility to "struggle alongside" and support Philadelphia movements. 

The panel additionally fielded questions and remarks from the audience.

The panel on Feb. 21 was the second in a series of programming for UMOJA's inaugural Black Philly Week. UMOJA Community Service Chair and College sophomore Menna Delva, who spearheaded the initiative, said that these conversations are important because they increase student awareness about the Philadelphia community.

Delva said that she hoped that hosting these discussions would lead to more student involvement in community service and activism, which she emphasized is important when addressing the relationship between Penn and surrounding neighborhoods. 

“A lot of us are scared to leave the Penn bubble, to go out into Philadelphia and make change,” Delva said. “And I feel it's important to talk about these things and encourage people to leave this bubble, go and explore Philly, and work on these important issues. You have to serve the community in which you operate from.”

For the first Black Philly Week event on Feb. 19, UMOJA partnered with Why Not Prosper, a nonprofit organization that provides support to formerly incarcerated women. Groups in attendance gathered at the ARCH building to assemble feminine hygiene care packages for incarcerated Black women in Philadelphia. 

Kermit O, a fourth generation Philadelphia native, concluded his panel remarks by explaining how the "colonialist mindset" affects Penn today.

“It's about how tricking you into thinking that you are bad. How can I trick people into thinking that Blackness is bad, right?" he said. "How can I trick people into thinking that your names mean something that they don’t even mean? How can I play it on your mind that your resistance is wrong so I can dehumanize you to the point where I can take your life over? Because I need to control you.”