'Leaders and Legends' on display for Black History Month in North Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- Parts of history were lost on Frances Hoover when she was a child. As an adult, she's making sure children have more historical figures to look up to.

"I just really felt disconnected from the stories that were being told," said Hoover. "I didn't feel like I saw examples of people who were also African American, that were African American women, being featured as major contributors."

As the Executive Director of Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, Hoover played a role in creating the inaugural "Leaders and Legends of North Philadelphia" exhibit. It features billboards of community leaders from the past and present. One of them is Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta.

"What you see here, when you go around and look at all the folks who are being honored, are people who are not just black history," he said. "But people who are helping to make history every single day."

Kenyatta, who represents the 181st Legislative District, is honored to be featured as a Leader and Legend. Other dignified guests such as Pennsylvania State Representative Amen Brown, Philadelphia Councilmember Derek Green, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney were there to celebrate the launch of the historic exhibit.

"It allows people to learn at a very young age the power of their voice, the power of their imagination," Kenyatta said about the exhibit and Smith Playground's overall goals.

First created in 1899, the natural space provides an oasis among the urban communities outside of Fairmount Park. Though the park is closed for the winter, the new exhibit on its front lawn is a means to keep the community engaged while they wait for warmer days.

It also aims to provide historical context for the spaces in which children live and play.

"Kids might ride down Cecil B. Moore Avenue every day and not have any idea of who Cecil B. Moore is," said Frances Hoover. "They can come here, read about him, and then, the next time, walk a little bit taller."

Smith Memorial Playground is planning to open a nature-based preschool in September 2021.

"The plan is to use that to make a significant impact on the families and the children of this immediate community," said Hoover.

The Leaders and Legends of North Philadelphia exhibit launched today and will be open to the public throughout the entire month of February.

To learn more, visit their website.

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