How an Overbrook High grad went from jail time to a career in engineering

How an Overbrook High grad went from jail time to a career in engineering

Paul Johnson knows that it’s hard for people from the outside looking in to understand his story and his struggles. His life, he said, was never straightforward. Johnson, 26, attended and graduated from Overbrook high school and took a few college courses at the Community College of Philadelphia before dropping out. He soon took a path that led him to spending time in and out of jail before being sentenced to six months for missing court dates due to driving under the influence. Once released, he had trouble securing a job. No one really wanted to take the chance of hiring someone with a record, and he received a lot of rejections from employers after handing in his applications. Then his probation officer connected him to the PowerCorps program through the Philadelphia Water Department, where Johnson learned about the history and use of Green Stormwater Infrastructure, and was able to do work that included basic maintenance on drains, landscape and infrastructure work. He...
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Like Skype for prisons: How tech is used in PA for virtual inmate visitation

Like Skype for prisons: How tech is used in PA for virtual inmate visitation

Myra Gaskins’ life changed in 1989. Her son, LaFaye Gaskins, had been arrested for murder. Myra still insists her son is innocent, but a jury found him guilty in May 1990 of killing Albert Dodson, a drug dealer. LaFaye is currently serving a life sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Schuylkill County. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, a nonprofit corporation housed at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, is looking into her son’s case, Myra said, with the goal of getting him a new trial. The only way Myra and LaFaye have been able to visit with each other over the last five years is through the Virtual Visitation Program, which allows inmates to communicate with their loved ones through a television, camera and internet hook up — similar to a Skype session. These visits may soon be interrupted as the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ends the contract with the company that provides these services. Myra and other families with incarcerated loved...
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A Game of Thrones-style swordplay class happens Sundays in West Philly

A Game of Thrones-style swordplay class happens Sundays in West Philly

Graham Meyer plays with swords every Sunday morning in West Philly. He carries them there in a golf bag, en route to a gathering of the Philadelphia Common Fencers Guild – students and teachers interested in learning the finer points of Historical European Martial Arts. Most of the swords in the bag are a mixture of wood and plastic. Only a few students, including Meyer, have actual bladed weapons. Meyer’s favorite is the steel competition blade called the Federshwert, a type of German fencing weapon. He also knows how to wield a rapier, sabre, and spear. On Sunday, despite chilly winds and melting ice soaking parts of the park, Meyer gathered his group of six disciples, urging them to grab a sword that they felt comfortable with. Instead of a quick warm up, Meyer went straight to drills. He started off with basic hand positions and footwork this weekend morning. His path to this point with his class is anything but straightforward. A Portland...
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This new giving circle funds struggling Philly schools

This new giving circle funds struggling Philly schools

It was about a year and a half ago when Andy Toy read an article about a school in Germantown that was struggling with funds. The principal, Toy recalled, had only $34 and couldn’t afford to purchase many amenities for his students. However, within a few days of the article being published, the school received thousands of dollars in donations and the principal was able to move forward in buying the things that his school needed. That’s when the idea of the Philadelphia Public School Giving Circle (PPSGC) took hold. “To me the lightbulb kind of went off and was like, if we could get everybody out there and do the same thing, people would give because people are interested in giving,” said Toy, development and communications manager of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC). “There is a big need out there.” With PPSGC, there is a strong focus on regular neighborhood public schools, especially those in low-income areas and have limited fundraising capacity within their communities,...
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Struggling to understand

Struggling to understand

I must have watched the video of Alton Sterling’s son cry on the internet five times when it first appeared on my Twitter feed. I could not help but watch it over again, and try to understand what just happened and why. To see Cameron Sterling become the man of the house so suddenly, and in such a terrible way, was heartbreaking. I wanted to be one of those men patting him on the back, embracing him and offering some kind of comfort. This young man would remember Tuesday, July 5, 2016 not only as the day that he lost his father, but the day when he would never trust a police officer again. Still, after watching the video a few more times I found myself trying to understand the “fear.” That fear of a darker or lighter skin, that seems so ingrained. Is it ancestral? Is it taught? Or is it something more? I waited and watched the barrage of news coverage, the media...
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The Rooms Project: Recovery doesn’t have to be a struggle

The Rooms Project: Recovery doesn’t have to be a struggle

On a humid Tuesday morning in Bucks County, in the surrounding neighborhood, a cul-de-sac setting, the only noise that can be heard is a water fountain from across the street. A backpack slung over her shoulder and a folding chair in one hand, Jillian Bauer, creator of The Rooms Project, walks up the stairs of Independence Lodge Sober Living, a recovery house. The Rooms Project is a way that Bauer gives “recovery a voice” through the stories of experience, strength, and hope she often heard in “the rooms” of recovery support groups and meetings. After scrolling through her phone, checking to make sure that she has the right address and time, a man looking to be in his late 30s invites Bauer into the house. She sits in the kitchen, waiting for her interviewee Bryan Kennedy, the owner and founder of Independence Lodge Sober Living. Bauer started The Rooms Project just a few years ago, in March 2014 after celebrating a year of sobriety. She...
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Looking forward to better days

Looking forward to better days

The last image that I saw of my dad, was when he was laying in his casket. He looked so peaceful and it was at that moment that I realized I would never hear from him again. Prior to that I had only seen him twice before, when he was being pushed into an ambulance with a bloody patch covering his forehead and when I had given him my last hug on Father’s Day 1999. It’s a story that I’ve told a few times and each time I tell it, it feels as if the terrible events happened just yesterday. It’s a common scene and an unfortunate story that is told too often while trying to live and thrive in the city of Philadelphia. The amount of gun violence that Philadelphians experience is nothing new, but the question that keeps coming up at each crime scene and each vigil is what will be done to address the ongoing problem? The situation is dire...
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Uber PA’s general manager calls PPA ‘a broken system’

Uber PA’s general manager calls PPA ‘a broken system’

Last year, Raymond Reyes, a 25 year veteran in the army, retired. Searching for something new to hold him over he was first introduced to Uber when visiting his brother in New York City when he was traveling from the JFK airport. He recalled his story earlier at a Uber press conference in response to the targeting of ridesharing by the Philadelphia Parking Association (PPA). Mostly brought to light after yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News article. “I realized that for me, driving for Uber would be the perfect way to get out of the house to see the city and meet new people,” Reyes said. Reyes signed up to join the popular ridesharing service and everything seemed to be going well, he said, until one day in Center City he received a trick request. Two riders, wearing plain clothes, jumped into the back seat making Reyes suspicious. The riders, Reyes said, were seemingly staging a conversation that centered around bashing the PPA and making sure Reyes...
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A Conversation with Black Hood’s Duane Swierczynski

A Conversation with Black Hood’s Duane Swierczynski

Not sure if comic book fans know, but we have our very own superhero set here in Philly! How exciting is that? I’m disappointed in myself for not perusing the shelves of my local comic book stores a little better. And I hope I do not get punished by the staff of Geekadelphia for such a thing. The Black Hood is Philly’s answer to the comic book vigilante problem that we currently do not have. Although we have been visited by some of the more famous of super heroes, Superman did stop here in Philly for a “Cheese Steak sandwich” at one point. The Punisher stopped by once as well, and Thomas Elliot (Hush from Batman) resided in Philly for a time. Duane Swierczynski, the current writer for the Black Hood series, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about what he has planned next for the hero Philadelphians deserve and what got him interested in the comic book...
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Butkovitz unveils plans for potential drone usage

Butkovitz unveils plans for potential drone usage

As part of an ongoing effort to explore how technology can be utilized to improve government function, City Controller Alan Butkovitz announced Wednesday that the city has been using drones to inspect dangerous buildings in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Butkovitz and his team selected four locations around the city to test the drone's capacity to make visual inspections. The drone was utilized to gain a broader view of collapsing buildings in Hunting Park, West Philadelphia, Point Breeze and South Philadelphia on Manton Street. “Our latest project joins our record of technology initiatives since I first took office 10 years ago, including transparency over campaign finance reporting through our website and developing a mobile application that allows citizens to report fraud directly to our office,” Butkovitz said. “The immediate advantage of utilizing a drone was realized with the ability to cover more ground in less time, making the process more efficient and effective. We found a visual inspection of one block consisting of 56...
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