Father Judge High School senior Alexander Citerone was honored on Oct. 21 as the winner of a student essay contest sponsored by the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame. The contest asked students to write on the theme of “Uncovering Northeast Philly: What makes Northeast Philadelphia Special?”
Here is the winning essay:
In order to truly appreciate the “Great Northeast,” one must learn the evolvement of the living legacy in stories, histories and traditions. After researching life in the Northeast from my parents, grandparents and older neighbors, one would hear from each story a common theme: simple, humble beginnings. Decades ago, many families migrated to the Northeast from the city to enjoy an almost suburban lifestyle and generations of children stayed here. The family unit was a strong facet of the area; neighbors were many times considered extended family and everyone watched out for each other. Traditions were important and entire neighborhoods were almost “cookie cutter” images of each other. Despite minor differrences in street names and local businesses, you could hardly tell if you were in Mayfair, Holmesburg or Rhawnhurst if you were not a local. Throughout the community, these neighborhoods maintained the same blueprint of middle-class families with strong values and a hard work ethic.
Today, Northeast Philly has maintained a resemblance of what it was in the past; neighbors still share common goals such as safety and a family-oriented atmosphere. They have a certain identity with each other where relationships are built and grown. One great demonstration of solidarity between neighbors found throughout the Northeast today is the block party. Truly nothing displays this unity quite like the parties one can see on any given day at the end of the summer. When Philadelphia sports teams are victorious, neighbors can be heard rejoicing from their respective sports celebrations. There is a unique interacting or relating to each other that is unlike many other neighborhoods. It is not only important that individuals live in close proximity to each other, but that the life of each interacts and impacts the lives of others.
The Northeast binds people together because many hold similar values despite differences in religion or race. There are a variety of churches that have remained very similar from the past, although the Northeast is becoming very colorful. History shows that the Northeast was primarily white, Italian or Irish-Catholic descendants with scattered Jewish communities. Currently, you not only see a white population, there are also African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific-Island and Indian people. The blending of these people brings about new traditions that can be shared and learned. There is a cohesiveness, a common regard that is evident especially within the younger generations with families at the local playgrounds and youth sports organizations. It is encouraging to see residents of the Northeast supporting their children at sports events or fundraising for a specific project like improving recreational facilities. The key element to the successfulness is the commonality that drives them together.
Neighborhoods in the Northeast are sometimes managed and governed by their own residents. Some have Town Watches or civic leadership groups that set standards and rules and allocate responsibilities in which all can share and benefit. Local businesses have been able to grow and expand by integrating with the community and assisting with their own concerns. For example, last year, businesses and families united together in support of St. Hubert Catholic High School. It was slated for closing by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; however, locals knew that the closing of the school would affect many aspects of the Northeast. A unified campaign was created and solified the tight bounds of tradition that exist within the community. Without these essential groups, the Northeast could not survive and flourish. The Northeast is such a dynamic place to live and having all residents participate in helping make it even better is a great goal for all.
From the basic building blocks of the family unit and an integrated neighborhood that strives for the well-being of its people come unique individuals that left a stamp on society. Some of these people are highlighted because of the exceptional way they’ve lived their lives and embodied tradition within their own communities. Their character, presence and talents render them as examples of the positive influence of the community of Northeast Philadelphia. It is important to shine a spotlight on the contributions of ordinary people that have done extraordinary things. These people are the inspiration for our young, providing examples to our youth that they should strive for excellence in any endeavor of their choosing. These important figures and their contributions should be recognized by the area which developed their successful traits. By presenting significant and powerful role models, the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame is a source of learning, inspiration and hope for the community.
The traditions, family values and hard work ethic of the people of the Northeast have survived the test of time and created people to spread these ideals with which they grew up. It is important to understand the history of the Northeast, to recognize what made it great, and to pass these simple principles of life to future generations. The Northeast is indeed special and we should be proud to live in a great neighborhood. ••