At this Senegalese museum, the walls belong to West Philly - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 25, 2019 12:50 pm

At this Senegalese museum, the walls belong to West Philly

A collection of neighborhood-oriented videos made by Philadelphians is projecting on the walls of the new Museum of Black Civilization in Dakar.

The Precious Places Community History Project filming at Mother Bethel African Methodist Church at 6th & Lombard.

(Courtesy photo)

Nestled inside a museum in Dakar, Senegal, 44 films produced by Philadelphians run on a loop projected onto a wall.

Just a ferry ride away from Gorée, a major slave trade hub from the 16th to 19th centuries, the video exhibit depicts the African-American community and experience in Philadelphia — 3,866 miles away from the City of Brotherly Love.

Scribe Video Center, a West Philly-based nonprofit, partnered with Senegal’s new Museum of Black Civilizations to showcase the diversity of Africa and the African Diaspora to the world. The exhibit includes films made by Philly residents between 2004 and 2018, and highlight life in neighborhoods including Germantown, West Philadelphia and Elkins Park.

The films come from three Scribe community initiatives:

  • The Precious Places Community History Project, where 10 groups of about five community residents work alongside a filmmaker and research scholar to plan, write and film videos documenting Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
  • Muslim Voices of Philadelphia, a historical film project that explored the diverse Muslim communities in Philadelphia
  • The Great Migration: A City Transformed (1916-1930), which examined the historical impact of the movement of Black people who fled the American South for economic opportunities and to escape violence

At St. Peter Claver church in South Philly. (Courtesy photo)

“When visitors from literally around the world go to Dakar and think about the African diasporic community in the United States, they’ll wander through this room and learn about Black folks in Philadelphia,” said Louis Massiah, Scribe’s founder and executive director. “It’s like a snapshot of various parts of the city of what life is like from the perspective of people living here.”

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Massiah was asked to get involved when he met the museum’s curator at a Caribbean studies conference in Havana, Cuba. The curator envisioned a first floor exploring ancient African civilizations and a second floor focusing on contemporary African and African Diasporic civilizations.

The museum, which opened in December, was first envisioned by Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president after gaining independence in 1960, and can house 18,000 works. The museum’s circular shape plays off traditional southern Senegalese homes, and it opened amid international efforts to retrieve African artifacts from European museums that were taken without consent during the colonial era.

Scribe opened in 1982 and aims to help community members use media to enact social change. It hosts more than 50 media workshops every year, runs a youth documentary program and operates WPEB, a neighborhood-focused radio station.

Through March 1, Scribe is recruiting its 2019 Precious Places cohort. Participants have produced more than 80 films over the years, Massiah said, showcasing neighborhoods across Philadelphia as well as Montgomery and Delaware counties.

At Church of the Advocate in Germantown. (Photo by Lori Waselchuk/Scribe Video Center)

According to Massiah, while the films are based in history, they often deal with current issues, such as displacement, wanting more green space, preserving buildings of community importance and overcoming neighborhood development.

“Sometimes the history, people’s histories, get erased and that actually has an impact on us,” he said. “We lose part of ourselves when development doesn’t honor the people who have lived in a place for many, many generations.”

But the best part of the program is seeing people get to know neighborhoods they might not otherwise feel invited into because they don’t live there, Massiah added. He remembered watching participants film at a Cambodian Buddhist temple in South Philadelphia, the Christian Street YMCA and throughout West Philadelphia all in one day.

“What these pieces do is they allow us to see who our neighbors are and let the neighbors tell the story of the neighborhood that they live in, so they’re sort of self-defined stories of what’s going on,” he said.

The exhibit in Senegal is expected to be on display through the year.

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