grades K — 6. The school is independently run and largely funded by taxpayer dollars and has more than 550 students. “Our goal was to deal with education in the area, so we started with kindergarten to third grade, and each year we added a grade,” says Gamble, who says the school plans to add 7th and 8th grade over the next two years.
Creating jobs, fostering entrepreneurship, and providing affordable housing and education is what Universal is all about. But that takes a lot of money. One of the things Islam is hoping to accomplish over the next few years is attracting investment dollars from the financial community. Another goal is to have Universal become more self-sufficient by changing the ratio of outside support vs. funds generated by the company. “We want to flip that the other way around so 75% of our income comes from fees and 25% comes from public and grant sources, and we expect to do that over the next five years.”
These days, Universal’s headquarters is located in a former storefront at the corner of 15th and Catharine streets, a few doors down from the boss’ house. The company’s arduous mission continues and is not likely to be completed anytime soon. “We have a 50-to-100-year time horizon,” says Gamble. “That’s how long it’s going to take to get our communities right.”
As the sun sets over South Philadelphia, the tenements, abandoned storefronts, filthy sidewalks, and rubble-filled lots remain. But each day brings with it a hope that future generations will reap the benefits of Universal’s efforts to clean up the ghettos and revitalize these communities.
How You Can Clean Up A Community
In 1977, Kenneth Gamble was galvanized by his own music. The two-time Grammy winner, who along with Leon Huff co-owned the red-hot music label Philadelphia International Records, released the song “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto” and was at once inspired to renovate the housing stock and launch businesses in South Philadelphia.
Over the last 25 years, legions of black entrepreneurs and professionals have been doing the same. And you can, too. BLACK ENTERPRISE interviewed Richmond S. McCoy, president and CEO of UrbanAmerica L.P., a private real estate investment company, and Ronald A. Williams, president of Prince George’s Community College and an expert in bringing together business, academic, and community leaders for collaborative ventures. Both men stressed the importance of community redevelopment and recommend the following tips to get started:
In developing any venture, networking is critical, says Williams. “Many business leaders and community activists undersell social interaction. They feel that they do not have time or that their business interactions are good enough.” But, maintains Williams, it can make the difference between a viable project and one still on the drawing board. He recommends the following:
- Brainstorm with economic development organizations and groups. Find individuals in those organizations that have overlapping interests.
Create a social setting that serves as a conduit to interaction between investors and community members.
Work with the community
Good intentions are fine, but make sure your ideas support