Albert Hicks: Rebuilding a Community Through Public Space

by Zuri Hoffman

In South Philly, on any given summer day, you may hear the sound of hearty laughs and splashing water coming from Ridgeway Park pool. The small park would probably go unnoticed without its campers and local kids who swim there nearly every day. Well maintained by the community members, Ridgeway is a welcoming and scenic park.

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Ridgeway Park Pool | Photo by Zuri Hoffman

However, for many longtime residents like Albert Hicks, he recalls how different it once looked. Born and raised in South Philly, Hicks has childhood memories playing in Ridgeway Park and has been able to see the many changes that have taken place through the years.

He is a man who wears several hats within the community, serving as a committeeman in the 2nd ward, Hawthorne Recreation Center Advisory Council member, as well as facilitator of Friends of Ridgeway Park. Clearly, Hicks is committed to serving his community in many ways.

albert5His motivation stems from his generational ties to South Philadelphia, as well as his desire to help solve community issues.

“I like to see the people I know—young and old—have a place that they can call home,” Hicks said. “The generational people should be able to remain in their homes without being priced-out due to taxes. Because the tax value of a lot of homes has raised, a lot of the longtime residents cannot stay,” he added.

As a longtime resident himself, many of his closest neighbors are concerned with the threat of gentrification forcing them to move out of their homes. Because of these changes, Hicks was a strong advocate for Philadelphia’s LOOP Program, designed to combat gentrification and accommodate longtime occupants.

“We came up in the 60s, 70s and the 80s when the Martin Luther King Housing Project was here and this neighborhood was notorious. People of a lighter hue couldn’t even walk in our community. I can’t even believe I am alive long enough to see this. I believe that was the beginning of the betterment of our community as a whole,” Hicks said.

As a construction worker for many years, his passion and skill for the job caused him to start his own renovation company—Hicks Renovation. Upholding a lucrative and prospering business, it wasn’t until an injury that he was forced to take a break from construction. Stemming from his injury, Hicks battled neuropathy, a spreading ulcer, as well as organ failures that left him bedridden.

Through all the pain, Hicks maintains a positive attitude and is so grateful to have his life and is eager to make a difference.

“People see me running around in this [walker], and they think ‘aww look at that man,’ but no, they should see how the man WAS—before the walker,” Hicks said.

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One of Hicks’ greatest supporters is his friend and neighbor, Gwendolyn Toler. She describes him as kind man who is very easy to work with.

“Anytime I need him to do something he’ll get it done,” Toler said.

As an active member of the community herself, she helped bring the SHARE Food Program to South Philly. Toler has also contributed to improving Ridgeway Park through her gardening and maintenance work. Similar to Hicks, she spends much of her time caring for the neighborhood and its community members.

“Anytime somebody is hungry they are guaranteed a plate with Gwen,” Hicks said.

Together, the duo is dedicated to making a difference. As participants in The Friends of Ridgeway Park coalition, they help develop different programs, free for Hawthorne Recreation Center children, including a tennis program, ballet lessons, a toy drive, book bag drive and turkey drive for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Through all of his life experiences, he said his greatest lesson remains, “it is always good to know where you come from.” It is evident from his dedication to community work that Albert Hicks will never forget.

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