Though this project seeks to illustrate the changing atmosphere of Kensington from a journalistic perspective, I feel that it is important to share my personal observations of the time I spent there.
The first time I ventured up to Kensington, I was afraid to get out of my car. I wished I wasn’t female, that my eyes weren’t blue, and that I had chosen a different topic for my senior project.
It’s difficult to research stories of the terrible things that have happened in Kensington and not have your nerve reduced to that of a young, female, cub reporter alone in a shady neighborhood.
When I did finally wander along the littered sidewalk, a passerby immediately scolded me that if I didn’t get off of the corner right now, I might be gang-raped. I had only been walking for 30 seconds.
Upon first glance, the only joy I could see in Kensington was that I had the ability to leave it. Still, this neighborhood where I felt so uncomfortable is home to more than 50,000 Philadelphians, according to demographics published on the Philadelphia Inquirer website.
As my visits to Kensington became more frequent, I learned the rules of the locals. Never stay standing in the same spot for long, for fear of being harassed or worse. Don’t be caught outside after 4 p.m., for that’s when the more unsavory characters tend to begin their days. But the most important lesson I learned was this: befriend the local neighborhood figures.
From these people, I found the good in Kensington. Usually when I finally gathered the pluck to approach someone and introduce myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the way they took me under their wing. They not-so-gently said that I looked out of place and quickly noted the places I should go, people I should talk to, and types of characters I was to avoid.
“If someone calls at you from their front door, even a woman, and asks you to come inside their house, don’t!” one gentleman said to me when he discovered I wasn’t from Kensington. Though I thought that advice seemed obvious, I appreciated his knee-jerk reaction to look out for me.
Kensington has real dangers and a dark past, but my take-away hasn’t been the drug-filled “Zombieland” that others have painted it to be.
There are neighbors looking out for each other. There is improvement from the way it used to be. There is color, life, and community. And most importantly, there is good in the people who live there if you just take the time to say hello.