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Kensington community connects over photography and poetry at McPherson Square

A few months ago, I gave 10 kids from McPherson’s after-school program film cameras and instructed them to take photos around the park and inside the library. 

After all the film from the cameras was used up, I got them developed for the “Community Connecting Poetry Event” on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at McPherson Square Library. 

When I received the funding to hold the event, this was the first thing that came to mind. I wanted to allow the kids of McPherson Square to show the world from their point of view. 

When I had most of the event planned, a nagging concern kept biting at me. What if no one showed up? It would destroy these kids. Then we began to find out the true condition of the library building, which needed emergency repairs and improvements. And so, with both of those facts, I began getting to work. 

I sent emails and made phone calls, letting everyone I could think of know what was happening at the library that is so important to this community. I reached out to City officials, community members, and community leaders. Volunteers and I also went around and flyered several times, making sure the families with kids knew what was happening and when. 

The Community Connecting Poetry Event

A table is set showcasing frames with photographs created by youth in Kensington with disposable cameras at the “Community Connecting Poetry Event” at McPherson Square Library on December 6, 2022. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

For the December event, we decorated the library’s Teen Section by hanging up the kids’ photos on fairy lights with tiny clothes pins. We also hung Christmas lights from the shelves above the heads of everyone and had Christmas music playing in the background. The Christmas and fairy lights provided an extra amount of light that we didn’t have, as most of the overhead lights in the library weren’t working. 

The kids were excited to see their photos, going through them and pointing out to their friends and family which ones were theirs. Some kids even read their poems from the workshop to the crowd. 

Many community members also shared poems of their own at the event. A few poems even received standing ovations from the crowd. Some of the poems will be preserved in McPherson’s new history binder. 

Kensington resident Jessica Shoffner reads a poem at the “Community Connecting Poetry Event” at McPherson Square Library on December 6, 2022. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

The history binder is full of photos and newspaper articles, tracing the neighborhood’s history. For example, the binder features photos from the ‘70s. Unfortunately, the binder has not been updated for about 50 years. For a community, especially an impoverished one like Kensington, knowing your history and the history of the community is important. 

So, we collected the poems from the event, articles from different news stations online, and photos both my own and others for a brand-new history binder. The kids’ photos featured in the exhibition will also be placed inside the new binder, allowing these kids who’ve always thought their stories would never be heard to go down in neighborhood history. 

Although photography was the main attraction, that wasn’t the only thing I planned for the event. Local poet Ursula Rucker led a small poetry workshop. Rucker has had a presence in Kensington, including participating in the Streetwear for Survivors fashion show and helping community members create poems that would become murals.

Ursula Rucker, a world-renowned poet and Philly native, gives a speech at the event held at McPherson Square Library on December 6, 2022. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

Many community members also spoke about how important the library is to the community and the kids. Everyone agreed that if something were to cause the library to shut down, we would lose many, if not all, of the kids who frequent the library using it as a safe haven. That’s something that everyone can agree on, whether you’re from Kensington or not. That’s why, as a community, the people of Kensington have begun to fight. Fight for what we consider important, including our kids, teens, young adults, and the places that shelter them and fight for them. 

In the days following my event — following the people of Kensington taking our voices back — the lights that have sat burned out and unused for years were replaced and work has begun to try and repair or slow down the damage in the library. 

Daisie Cardona reads a poem at her photo exhibit and open mic event at McPherson Square Library on December 6, 2022. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

The outside world can ignore us when we stay silent and wallow in hardship and brokenness, but when we use our voices and fight for our home together, they can’t ignore us. They can’t stop us when we stand together. All for one, and one for all. 

On Feb. 17 at 1 p.m., Kensington community members will host an emergency update meeting about Rebuild at McPherson Square Library. District 7 Councilmember Quetcy Lozada and Christine Tartaglione, Pennsylvania state senator for District 2, will attend the meeting.  

For more information, contact Daisie Cardona by calling 267-663-6092 or emailing 

Editors: Siani Colón, Zari Tarazona Designer: Zari Tarazona