“Last week I had the opportunity to visit James Talib-Dean Camp, an encampment community named after James Talib-Dean Campbell, who passed away this month. Talib-Dean Campbell was a co-founder of the Workers Revolutionary Collective (WRC), a group that has worked with unhoused people to create a functional, self-sustaining encampment near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in center city. Relatives and friends of Talib-Dean Campbell say that he was kind, selfless, and had a passion for housing justice, social change, and spreading the message of Islamic-based recovery.
When I visited the camp, I saw caring community members fighting for autonomy and finding creative ways to make a home for themselves when they were left with few other options. I saw people who have been scorned by exploitative landlords, priced out of neighborhoods they grew up in, failed by an insufficient social safety net, and pushed to the margins of society. These community members came together to say enough is enough, and to demand real change. And I think it’s time that we listened to them.
Just as the uprisings that filled our streets this month were about more than just the murder of George Floyd, the protest encampment is about more than just a group of people grappling with homelessness. The residents of James Talib-Dean Camp have created an impressive level of organization and self-sufficiency in a short period of time and have rallied around clearly articulated demands. At the core, their demands are simple—they want respect, dignity, and freedom. They want the ability to make their own choices and to live without the constant threat of criminalization, forced removal, and violence.
As the City of Philadelphia reflects on its role in perpetuating structural racism and police brutality, we must not forget the significant role that housing plays in the disenfranchisement and oppression of communities of color. The residents of James Talib-Dean Camp come from different backgrounds and may have come to the camp for different reasons, but what they all share is a clear belief that housing is a human right.
As someone who worked for years as a restorative justice facilitator, I believe strongly in listening, affirming, and understanding as the first steps in repairing harm. Silencing and displacing these residents will only cause further harm at a time when many are struggling to respond to the traumas of the past few months. And these residents have experienced a great deal of trauma from a society that has failed to provide them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. Rather than condemning the encampment or prescribing solutions from above, I implore my fellow elected officials and city leaders to listen to the demands that the residents of James Talib-Dean Camp are making, work to better understand the motivations behind the protest encampment, and ask the residents what they need to be safe and healthy.”