Joseph Manning cannot stand trash.
In conversation, he will inevitably lead back to it: the piles of litter that build up throughout the city on street corners, in parks and under highway overpasses.
Even on his own block of Apsley Street in Germantown, where Manning personally sees to it that the litter is picked up, bagged and left on the curb for collection, it will creep back to the point that street cleaning becomes a weekly routine.
“One thing that’s always evident is it’s dirty,” Manning said. “It’s trashy, they don’t care and it shows not a lot of respect.”
The trash is part of what started Manning on his path to building the United for a Better Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that Manning believes can help clean and save communities in Northwest Philadelphia one block at a time.
Based out of Germantown, Manning founded the United For a Better Community Development Organization late last year as an outgrowth of his career as a landlord for men in transitional housing.
Manning rents out the six homes he owns to about 40 people, who he says face challenges in finding stable housing as they attempt to get back on their feet. Some of the men have been incarcerated or in and out of rehab. Some are divorced or kicked out by former girlfriends. Still, others say they are just victims of a bad economy. Having lost their jobs, Manning’s homes provide an alternative to other housing options that Manning said cater mostly to women and children.
“He had a vision to empower men, to give them skills and opportunities,” said Phillip Green, a self-described minister and one of Manning’s tenants. “Joe is a man of great vision, not only to clean the community and repair the blight, but also he likes to go in the schools and [talk] to the kids to heighten their consciousness.”
For tenants who have trouble paying the rent in full, Manning establishes a system where they can help him with work for the UFBC, including helping him refurbish an abandoned house into a community center on Apsley Street a block from his house.
Growing up, Manning earned his nickname NYAJ as an acronym for “not your average Joe,” a moniker given to him by friends as a result of his seemingly endless stream of ideas.
As he tells it, the ideas first started coming to him in the 6th grade, when he and a friend started selling newspapers to make some money, soon graduating to making their own clothes that they would sell to friend in West Philadelphia.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur. That spirit has dwelled in me for a while” Manning said. “Our whole focus with the youth and how we see things are going to change is through empowerment through entrepreneurship.”
Joe later moved to New York City, where he said he graduated from Rome Free Academy and studied briefly at the Fashion Institute of Technology. But he returned to Philadelphia to pursue business opportunities, which included real estate and clothing manufacturing.
Manning said he first came up with the idea for the UFBC in 2005, but put it off for several years due to his work load. He became involved with the idea again recently when he started going around with his nieces and nephews to clean up blocks in Germantown where he noticed a large amount of trash.
Manning said he obtained the idea for UFBC from one of his personal heroes, founder of the Tuskegee Institute.
“If we just show [young people] in our time we throw trash on the ground, we don’t take care of property, we don’t care about one another, what do you think they are going to do?” Manning said. “[Washington] had that in mind, back then, years and years ago, and we are still suffering from that problem because it becomes a point that someone else has to carry that torch.”
Adding to his sense of admiration for Washington, is of course, his sense of cleanliness.
“He focused on cleaning,” Manning said with emphasis. “You can go down there now to Tuskegee, if you’ve ever seen the university, you could probably eat off of the floors.” Manning said he wants to focus the programs at the community center on Apsley Street based on similar programs started by Washington, including vocational and entrepreneurship training for youths in the area.
In addition, the house will potentially provide more housing for people in Manning’s transitional program, who he hopes will help run the center 24/7.
In addition to his inspiration from Washington, Manning said looked to the founder of Wawa, George Wood, and his focus on service in developing the idea around his community center.
Manning said he hopes that similar to Wawa’s expansion, his UFBC community center will spawn others like it that will serve other communities in Germantown, the Northwest and other parts of Philadelphia.
– Text, video and images by John Moritz and Brendan Menapace.