June 2022 Member Spotlight: Gregory J. Allen, Ph.D., Overbrook West Neighbors

Some community development corporations are long standing pillars of support in their neighborhoods, and others are just a few years old; however, organizations like Overbrook West Neighbors CDC are out here proving that a lot can be accomplished in a few years when you have a passionate, committed team. For June, we spoke to Gregory J. Allen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Overbrook West Neighbors CDC on what they have accomplished in just about 4 years, and how they successfully brought a Food Trust Night Market to Overbrook for the community.

Overbrook West Neighbors is just about four years old! Tell us about the origins of OWN.

In 2018, Overbrook West Neighbors was founded to address the community and development needs of the Overbrook neighborhood of West Philadelphia. It has been several decades since Overbrook had a community organization to focus on the concerns of its residents, business owners and institutions. This came about due to the gentrification occurring throughout Overbrook especially in its residential and commercial properties and the lack of attention being paid to our institutions, business owners and infrastructure. We are concerned about what has happened in other Philadelphia neighborhoods and wanted to ensure that any development that occurred in Overbrook was planned and equitable. Together, with a group of neighbors who live and work in Overbrook, we started OWN to accomplish our mission of 1) working with our neighbors to improve our quality of life; 2) enhancing commerce on the Upper Lancaster Avenue Business Corridor; and 3) serving as the Registered Community Organization (RCO) addressing all zoning concerns.

What do you love most about your work in this neighborhood?

Overbrook is where I was born and raised. What I love most about our work in Overbrook is interacting with the neighbors and business owners who live and work in our small, close knit, neighborhood. Overbrook is an iconic Philadelphia neighborhood. Just about every Philadelphian has lived or knows someone who has lived in Overbrook. Home of Overbrook Elementary Schools and Overbrook High School, “The Castle on the Hill”, both on the Register of Historic Places and alma Mater to countless well-known graduates like Will Smith, Guion Bluford, Sharif El Mekki, Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr.  and many who are not as recognizable. Home of Tustin Playground, the place #WhereTheGreatsPlay like Wilt Chamberlain, Mike Gale, Ricky Tucker, Wali Jones, Kobe Bryant and the place Will Smith sang about in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Many of our neighbors, families, stakeholders and business owners have grown up together, and have lived and operated businesses here for generations. Most of us own and take good care of our homes. Our block captains and concerned neighbors, watch over our seniors and vulnerable families. We are a stable place to live, work, attend school, do business and have fun. We Are #OverbrookProud!

On May 12th, Overbrook held The Overbrook Night Market. Tell me about the event, how it got started, and what it offers the community.

The Overbrook Night Market is a celebration of the history, culture, community, people, institutions and businesses of Overbrook. It began as an effort to spotlight and attract attention to our work on the Upper Lancaster Avenue Business Corridor and the role it plays in the Overbrook and Overbrook Farms communities. Historically, this section of Lancaster Avenue has been an industrial corridor and we wanted to change the way people experience it. We recognized that an event of this type had never been held this far out in West Philadelphia and we wanted to give people a way to have some family fun without having to leave the neighborhood or go to Center City. In 2019, we reached out to The Food Trust to discuss how we might partner to bring Night Market to Overbrook. Following our conversations, realizing we were a year old, had limited capacity and how much work would be involved, we reached out to our Representative Morgan Cephas for support. Immediately, she saw the vision and was on board with us as a partner in progress. Together, our efforts are a story of public/private partnership between nonprofit, government and private entities all collaborating to host an event that will have lasting impacts on a community and its business corridor.

The impact that it offers the community can be defined in immediate and lasting outcomes. The immediate impact it offers our neighbors and business leaders is by providing a way to have some fun and celebrate our community and to change the perception of our corridor and community. It is critical for neighbors and business owners to enjoy and have pride in where they live and work. The lasting impact of the event is to demonstrate that this historic transportation route is critical to the growth and development of our community, is key for commuters in Montgomery & Delaware Counties and throughout the Greater Philadelphia region and is deserving of some long overdue attention and improvements. We refer to the Upper Lancaster Avenue Business Corridor as “The Gateway Between Philadelphia and the Main Line.” In the short time we have focused on improving the corridor, working together with our government and community partners, we have lived up to the Philadelphia Commerce Department mantra of ensuring our corridor is “safe, clean and lit.” Our goal is to encourage additional government investment in physical improvements and private investment in commerce and business. Stay tuned.

What do you hope for the future of Overbrook and its residents?

My hope for the future of Overbrook, its neighbors and stakeholders are that they will learn and value the rich and full history of our neighborhood, come to and continue to love and care for Overbrook in the same way that countless Philadelphians have for decades, view Overbrook as a great place to invest and enjoy doing business, take pride in our community and treasure it in the same way generations of residents have for over a century.

What’s next for Overbrook West Neighbors?

One of our favorite quotes is from Denzel Washington – “Without commitment, you’ll never start; without consistency, you’ll never finish.” With that quote in mind, the future for Overbrook West Neighbors is to consistently continue living up to our goals of reaching out to and engaging more neighbors and stakeholders in our mission, exploring innovative approaches to maintaining and growing affordable homeownership in our neighborhood, finding new and creative ways of supporting and building the capacity of Overbrook’s commerce, especially young, Black, women and BIPOC business leaders and continuing to fulfill our tagline of Keeping Overbrook Safe, Clean & Organized! ™

Support Overbrook West Neighbors! Overbrook West Neighbors is seeking one-time, monthly recurring and multi-year, general operating support from individual, foundation and corporate sponsors to continue its work to improve the quality of life in Overbrook and enhance commerce on the Upper Lancaster Avenue Business Corridor. We are especially interested in attracting a business partner who will participate with us in the CDC Tax Credit Program, a program provided by the City of Philadelphia that rewards local businesses that contribute to economic development efforts in distressed parts of the City. The tax credit will be applied against the Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT) obligation of the participating business(es).

If you are a for-profit Philadelphia business interested in participating in the CDC Tax Credit Program, please visit https://www.phila.gov/services/payments-assistance-taxes/tax-credits/community-development-corporation-cdc-tax-credit/ or contact Sara Lepori at (215) 683-2045 or via email at Sara.Lepori@phila.gov.

If you are interested in donating to Overbrook West Neighbors, please visit https://secure.givelively.org/donate/overbrook-west-neighbors

For more information about Overbrook West Neighbors, please contact Dr. Gregory J. Allen, Founder/President, at (215) 681-6937 or via email at greg@overbrookwestneighbors.com