Point Breeze community's march hearkens back to Washington

VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Activists Gwen Purnell and Gary Broderick on Morris Street, flanked by a sign announcing the local march.
VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Activists Gwen Purnell and Gary Broderick on Morris Street, flanked by a sign announcing the local march.
Posted: August 26, 2013

CALLING FOR "equitable development," a Point Breeze group is planning a march today in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington.

But the march through Point Breeze will also be a demonstration about local issues that organizers say hearken back to the values celebrated in the March on Washington. It will also target Mayor Nutter and Gov. Corbett's policies, along with local high-profile developer Ori Feibush, the owner of OCF Realty and a longtime controversial figure in the gentrifying neighborhood.

Called the "March for Affordable Housing, Public Education, Jobs and Freedom," it will begin at 11 a.m outside the former Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, and continue more than a half-mile to the OCF Coffee House - also owned by Feibush - at 20th and Federal streets.

An announcement from the Point Breeze Organizing Committee listed one reason for the march as to "protest OCF's profits-over-people gentrification model."

Gary Broderick, one of the Point Breeze march organizers, said the March on Washington has been reduced just to the "I Have a Dream" speech, when there was more behind it.

"We really try to talk to people about how it was a [march] for jobs and freedom . . . We wanted to build on that," he said.

Broderick, 32, said many people look at new development and automatically call it "progress."

"If you lower the crime rate, but the people who suffered under crime in Point Breeze for the past 30 years just get pushed into another neighborhood, that's not progress," said Broderick, who works as a waiter.

He said equitable development is about planning to allot a portion of new housing - he suggests 30 of 100 new homes - aside as affordable housing, and for developers to hire people from the community to work on construction projects.

Feibush - whom some march organizers accused of planning a block party complete with a moon bounce near his coffee shop today to act as a buffer between the march and his business - said the Point Breeze activists have every right to march.

But, he added: "They are saying a lot of things that sound nice, but none of them are true. . . . They are fearmongering. They are scaring people."

Feibush, 29, described himself as a "huge proponent" of affordable housing.

"There's a very significant need of smart development of affordable housing in every neighborhood," he said.

"We do our part to help local institutions and charities," Feibush continued. "But we are not able to build a home for $300,000 and sell it for $50,000."

If he did that, he said, he and and everyone he employs would be out of work.

Feibush said the block party was planned as a second-anniversary celebration for the coffee shop, but has since been rescheduled.

"When we learned of the protest, we decided to move our event to Sept. 7," he said.

Gwen Purnell, 73, has lived in Point Breeze since 1970 and retired from US Airways seven years ago. She wondered what she would do if she was eventually priced out of her neighborhood by new development.

"They are building houses for $400,000, but no one around here can afford those houses," Purnell said. "If my taxes go up, where am I going to go?"

She was inspired to join the march, she said, because she's seen people forced out of the neighborhood.

"We have people in our community who are here one day, and they have just disappeared the next," she said.

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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