The Gloria Casarez mural at 204 S. 12th St. is scheduled for imminent demolition by Midwood Development and Investment. Midwood plans to knock down the former 12th Street Gym and build a 31-story building in its place.
Anyone who knew Gloria and her impact on Philadelphia knows that the loss of the mural is a massive loss for our city. The mural was erected in 2015 to honor Gloria Casarez, a local Latina activist who died of breast cancer in 2014. Gloria dedicated her life to civil and economic rights. She brought communities together to find common ground and common vision. As a student, she organized other students to push for affordable housing and an end to homelessness. As the city’s first director of LGBT affairs, Gloria led Philadelphia to adopt the broadest protections for LGBT people in the nation.
I am one of the many people impacted by Gloria’s work in this city. I am a queer Filipina child of immigrants who met in Philadelphia. As an advanced practice community health nurse, I’ve dedicated my career to helping people and communities work together to move forward. I am a South Philly Reading Captain, and someone who deeply loves Philadelphia and believes in the issues that Gloria Casarez fought for in this city.
I have some ideas of how Midwood could better serve the neighborhood, and that would align with Gloria’s dedication to the communities depicted in the mural. Midwood could provide affordable housing in their building for the average Philadelphia income. They could contribute to the land trust set up as a result of the North Philly housing encampment. They could create an endowment at Bread and Roses Community Fund in Gloria’s name so that further grants can be provided for community groups making change (she was their board chair for many years). They could provide scholarships to the transitional-age youth living at the Gloria Casarez Residence of Project HOME so that they can get work or educational programs. They could provide for LGBTQ organizations that are at risk of being priced out of their workspaces. They could support Safehouse, a nonprofit that has proposed a supervised injection site to reduce harm in our communities. They could support the Morris Home, a residential facility for transgender individuals.
This is just a beginning of how they can honor Philadelphia, and honor the legacy of all that Gloria Casarez stood for.
Midwood has stated it has plans to honor Gloria on the new building but hasn’t given a planned date or details. The company says that they care about art and the community. I question that, as they have not found a way to save the mural, and did not personally reach out to Gloria’s wife to let her know their specific plans for destroying the mural.
Saving this mural is about more than just a mural. Taking it down symbolizes the destruction of hope, destroying the visibility of Latinos, women, lesbians, and cancer warriors. Allowing Midwood to not only destroy this mural but also build a 31-story building in a neighborhood that does not want it, is atrocious.
I am not against Philadelphia moving forward, but we should move at the advancement of all Philadelphians at the expense of none. Save the mural and develop something that serves the community, Midwood.
Erme Maula is a resident of South Philadelphia and a lifelong advocate for justice.