They Are Their Own Monuments

Tess Thackara, The New York Times , May 3, 2021

PHILADELPHIA — In a section of North Philadelphia, near an underpass and up a soaring stoop painted sky blue, Ms. Nandi’s home is decorated with pictures of civil rights heroes and political icons — Malcolm X, Queen Nefertiti, Lenin. Here, for some 20 years, Denise Muhammad, known by everyone as Ms. Nandi, and her husband, Khalid, ran an afternoon penny candy store for the neighborhood’s children out of their front living room, but it did much more than sell Tootsie Rolls.


If the children couldn’t count their change, the couple taught them. If they couldn’t read a quotation from Marcus Garvey on the wall, they helped them learn to read. “Ask any child in the neighborhood where Ms Nandi’s house is,” she said on a recent afternoon. “They’ll know.”

Ms. Nandi is a pillar of the community many residents call Fairhill-Hartranft, and one of the inspirations behind a new exhibition there called “Staying Power.” The show, which opened May 1 across several green spaces, features a series of homegrown monuments by artists to the residents who have helped to lift citizens in these communities, where the life expectancy is low, incarceration levels are high, and gentrification is now displacing people.