By Jim Brown
Growing up in Mantua in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s during the gang war, crime, drugs, and crack cocaine epidemic days in Mantua, the vision of a man came to be: Dr. Herman C. Wrice. The men and women who worked side-by-side with him to protect their community made Mantua a safer place to live.
On June 25, 2014, the Mural Arts Program, City of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and the Mount Vernon Manor Apartments hosted the rededication of the Dr. Wrice mural in Mantua at 33rd & Haverford Avenue.
With over 125 residents attending the ceremony of a man that was larger than life and fought for the good of his community for over 40 years up until his death in March of 1999, Dr. Wrice wore many hats.
During the ceremony, Jane Golden, executive director of the city’s Mural Arts Program talked about her first encounter with the man, whom she described as amazing, and credits for bringing out honorable men in a community that had untapped potential.
“Because this is where it started,” explained Ms. Golden. “I sat in a meeting one day and in walked this man who in life was larger than life and introduced himself to me as Herman Wrice. And I want to tell you something, I never forgot him. I never forgot how he inspired us. How he made us feel focused. How he encouraged us to give back and to be tenacious and dedicated to be long distance runners and to never give up. And I will be eternally grateful to him, to Tim Spencer, to Wilson Goode and to Councilwoman Blackwell for inspiring us.”
“Life is really a journey of things,” adds Ms. Golden. “Because that hope came from Herman Wrice and from the people we met back then. And when I come to Mantua, I feel that I am home.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell spoke about the Wrice family, especially Dr. Wrice, who protected his neighborhood and dedicated his life to working in the Mantua community.
“He’s a part of history,” stated Councilwoman Blackwell. “Herman Wrice is one of the high spots and one of the major events that marks who Mantua is and how Mantua has survived. When you look all around here and you see all the murals around here and beautiful homes, it reminds you of the struggles that Herman Wrice and others had here. I can’t mention Herman Wrice without thinking of Tim Spencer and what they went through to rebuild their community and rid it of drugs, violence and graffiti to help people survive here.”
“And whenever you speak of Mantua (one of the first Mothers of Mantua), you gotta say Jean Wrice,” explained Councilwoman Blackwell. “When you see one Wrice, you see Herman Wrice in all of them. We want to give special thanks to the matriarch of the Wrice family, Mrs. Jean Wrice who has kept his light, his spirit alive and all of her children for all of these years. She has fought for this (campaign of bringing the mural back to Mantua) from the beginning since day one.”
“Our struggle here today is to endure that we would stand gentrification and we could do that by maintaining the memory and always looking at the Wrice family and thanking them for their commitment to this community. So, look at this mural and let it remind us to re-commit ourselves and making sure that this community survives and that we stick together so that one day we don’t have to look back but we stick and stay right here in Mantua.”
In a community that was ravaged by gang violence, drugs and despair, Dr. Wrice and the organizations he founded were the beacons of hope that made Mantua safe for youngsters and residents. They felt comfortable sending their children to school and using the vehicles of sports, education, and other social services in the community to dream big.
The 6’3” towering man with a limp in his walk created three organizations in Mantua that not only impacted Mantua, but the City of Philadelphia and reached as far as the White House with then President George H. Bush visiting Mantua in 1992.
In 1964, Dr. Wrice founded the Young Great Society organization (YGS) that was directed to curb gang violence in Mantua as the neighborhood was transitioning from a multi-cultural community to an African-American neighborhood. He was instrumental in saving the lives of over 600 youth who would eventually become first-generation college graduates and go on to promising careers around the country. His impact on the lives he touched was evident in his self-volunteering spirit.
In 1985, he founded the Mantua Against Drugs organization (MAD), which began ‘The Wrice Process’. The crack cocaine epidemic was becoming an unstoppable force in the city that had no solution. It was Dr. Wrice’s idea to meet the crack dealers head-on and face-off with community leaders, police, and residents on the corners to stop their dealing and significantly slow down the crack selling. In the end, Dr. Wrice wanted to give back neighborhoods to the residents, who lived in fear.
His programs were successful and became the model for the city and the nation, as well as countries in Africa. His body of work touched millions through his documented works of ‘The Wrice Process’ that talks about implementation of ways to deal with crisis in communities.
He was featured on the news program, ‘48 Hours’, helping residents in Cincinnati, Ohio and other cities around the country champion their causes. Where there was a challenge and the will to fight, Dr. Wrice was bound to be there and join the good fight.
His work has been implemented in the African country of Tanzania where they have a community center named in his honor. Dr. Wrice was a man who didn’t seek accolades for his work; he was a man of social change, and those who worked with him had the privilege to be involved in his projects for his community, his city, his country, and the world.
To the man who dedicated his life engaging young people and proudly served his community, he has left a legacy and impression on those of us he touched, like myself, and will be forever remembered as an icon, mentor, hero and visionary. From this reporter, whom you saved, and the countless other young people rooted up in Mantua, we say thank you, and we love you, Dr. Herman C. Wrice.
For Donations and Contributions to Assist the Wrice family with the renovation project on The Dr. Herman C. Wrice Empowerment Center, 649 N. 35th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104please contact Tony Wrice at (215) 888-2540