Mt. Airy couple aims to create community space to preserve history, culture

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Mt. Airy residents Antoine and Samantha Joseph are a married millennial couple on a mission to preserve the history around them.

"I've been living in Mt. Airy basically my whole life...we've just seen, especially this Germantown Avenue strip, completely change," said Antoine Joseph.

As the couple watches new construction slowly impact their neighborhood by private developers, one of those buildings raised concerns for many long-time residents.

"The building right next to this building got leveled around May," added Joseph. "We were just worried that the trend was going to continue, and they'll start leveling the block."

The commercial building, located at 6661-6663 Germantown Avenue, is otherwise known as the former headquarters for the Philadelphia Sun, which is a Black-owned newspaper.

The publication was founded in 1992 by Philadelphia renowned activist J. Whyatt Mondesire. The Philadelphia Sun shares historical connections to the NAACP, the Mondesire family, and the Mt. Airy community.

In 2019, Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously to rename the stretch of the 6600 block of Germantown Avenue to J. Whyatt Mondesire Way in honor of his legacy.

"Mt. Airy has a long history of advocacy and restoration and preservation, so we wanted to contribute to that," said Samantha Joseph.

Antoine is an engineer, and his wife, Samantha, is currently working towards her doctorate in Community Health at Drexel University.

Once Antoine and Samantha learned the building was up for sale, they decided to step in and take action.

The couple recently launched a GoFundMe campaign, as they aim to buy and rehab the building as first-time developers.

Their vision is for a community engagement space that reflects the needs of the Mt. Airy community.

Also, with two apartments above, the couple says the units can be rented out at a fair rate to support that space.

"I'm in community health, and community organizing is what I'm passionate about," said Samantha. "Antoine is an engineer but also a real estate agent, so when we saw this opportunity, we were thinking: 'Is it possible for us to get this done? How would we be able to sustain it?'"

Samantha says she and Antoine put their thoughts together and combined what they both love and enjoy.

"Something community benefiting and also development. We don't really have many spaces like that on the avenue that's just utilization for the community," Samantha added.

While securing a closing date for the property, the couple looks to make a push for donations to cover water damages and other structural issues with the property.

"A lot of people from this neighborhood end up getting priced out, brought out then leave...it's a changing neighborhood," said Antoine. "The new development can be good, but you also have to balance it with maintaining cultural and history."
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