This post was written by Nagiarry Porcena-Meneus, the Department of Commerce’s Program Manager, Office of Neighborhood Economic Development.
In Fall 2020, the City of Philadelphia kicked off the Philadelphia Taking Care of Business (PHL TCB) Clean Corridors Program to expand the Department of Commerce’s existing commercial corridor cleaning efforts from 49 to 83 commercial corridors throughout the city. One of the PHL TCB’s goals is to invest in people and small businesses by creating employment opportunities for residents.
PHL TCB is committed to the economic success of neighborhood businesses and residents by enhancing an inviting environment on commercial corridors. One of the individuals who is part of this program is Randall Whitfield. Whitfield is a TCB Cleaning Specialist who has been employed by North 5th Revitalization Project for the past seven years. North 5th Revitalization Project cleans regularly on North 5th Street from Roosevelt Boulevard to Godfrey. The crew is composed of four cleaning ambassadors and one supervisor.
In addition to his cleaning efforts, Whitfield is a muralist who showcases by painting murals in the Olney neighborhood, because everyone deserves to feel safe and welcomed where they reside, do business and shop. In May 2020, George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Thousands of people nationwide collectively stood against racial injustices through various initiatives. In Philadelphia, North 5th Revitalization Project responded by commissioning Whitfield to paint a mural in remembrance of George Floyd on an abandoned newsstand in front of 5602 N 5th Street. It was then defaced with white nationalist graffiti last summer.
With the support of Councilmember Cherelle Parker, who championed the PHL TCB program in November 2019, North 5th Revitalization Project partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia for a newer and larger permanent mural in Olney.
In November 2021, Whitfield completed the 110-foot long and 10-foot-high mural named ‘Never Forgotten’ on the side of Tang Pharmacy at 5600 N 5th street facing Olney Avenue. For Whitfield, this artwork is a testament of love meant to inspire meaningful dialogue.
“We always say at Mural Arts that art ignites change,” Jane Golden, Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia expressed during the tribute public ceremony. Councilmember Parker added “This zip code is home to people of all shades who are working and building in Olney. We will not allow ignorance and aversion to diminish our collective work and advancements.”
Stephanie Michel, Director of North 5th Revitalization Project expressed: “A stand for George Floyd symbolizes a stand for every community member, for every nationality, every tongue and every background. This mural challenges us to never forget our community standing together.”
Art shows what is possible when we invest in and share our multidimensional stories. Public art in community gathering spaces like the 5th Street commercial corridor ignites an abundance of beauty, awareness and meaning. The Taking Care of Business program compliments this work by showing that these places are being taken care of by members of the community.
Here’s what Randall Whitfield had to share about his journey as an artist and the importance of the TCB program for him as a cleaning specialist:
Tell us about your journey with creating art. When did you start?
RW: I was drawing race cars and rocket ships when I was in 5th grade. Then, I started painting murals when I was 14 years old in people’s living rooms. They loved it, which also kept me going. From there, I traveled all over the country and even painted inside of many daycare centers. I am now back here, in the neighborhood where I grew up, painting murals.
What keeps you going, and why do you create?
RW: I am a passionate soldier standing up for meaningful situations and for art to continuously happen. I keep going no matter what. It’s not about me, it’s about the Most High expressing and guiding me.
What does it mean to be painting in the neighborhood you grew up in?
RW: My late parents were artists. I have the chance to do what they did not have the opportunity to do.
Tell us about your artistic process of painting the mural tribute to George Floyd?
RW: The beauty is that the artwork creates itself. I did not know that it would turn out to be exactly what it is now. The initial sketch did not include the Philadelphia skyline. It takes listening to what feels good as an artist and makes me happy in the process too. I keep in mind the neighbors who would look at the mural, and how they may feel by putting color schemes that work well together.
What was the highlight of painting this mural?
RW: Throughout the two months of painting, the kids who stopped by to interact with the artwork and give a thumbs up while going to school touched me. The appreciative reaction of neighbors inspired me.
How is it to be a TCB Cleaning Specialist in the neighborhood where your mural lives?
RW: I am grateful for the TCB program. It is an honor to work with my boss. Our crew keeps this area clean and shows that we do care about our neighborhood.
Do you think the mural tribute inspires people to also keep the corridor clean?
RW: The mural showcases the importance of having respect for your neighborhood. It can start dialogue and lead people to consider not throwing trash in the streets. If they care about the mural, my hope is that they will care for the corridor where it is located. Art can change people’s perceptions and attitudes because it meets them where they are.
How has PHL TCB supported your personal development and ability to create murals?
RW: It keeps my body healthy, active, and moving. The stable income supports my ability to create art as a passion and feeds myself and my family. The workforce training motivates me to keep learning.
Are there additional upcoming murals or art initiatives you are thinking about in Olney?
RW: The Martin Luther King mural will be right across the Never Forgotten mural tribute to George Floyd to symbolize our rise of hope amidst the struggle. It is about us, in our diversity coming together to keep the streets clean, reduce violence and invite creativity with dialogue. My dream is to also teach art to the younger generation and learn from each other. Art gives us permission to grow.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
RW: Love is my legacy; being everything that creation wants me to be and doing things well. That I cleaned the streets and gave my best. That I created art of many forms and gave my best. I hope that my art lives on for years to come by speaking truth, inspiring, and touching the lives of people of all ages. I hope to be remembered as someone who was in service to the truths of our daily lives and dedicated to making the world a better place.