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Tonnetta Graham

I mobilized my community to preserve a neighborhood landmark.


March 1, 2015


Strawberry Mansion


Fall 2012

As a leader in her north Philadelphia community of Strawberry Mansion, Tonnetta feels privileged to be in a position to represent this historic neighborhood on various projects. Like other neighborhoods in Philadelphia, it has experienced crime, blight and a shortage of resources. However, through the resiliency and tight network of its residents, and the determination of community groups and stakeholders, Strawberry Mansion is experiencing growth and revitalization.

Tonnetta now serves as president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to neighborhood preservation and community involvement in residential and commercial development. Her programming has empowered residents to preserve their neighborhood’s history and explore new opportunities for growth.

People stand together, all holding shovels over a container of dirt.

Groundbreaking Sept 2012: Strawberry Mansion CDC and Strawberry Mansion NAC Boards with U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah and Community Partners

As an instructor for a Fall 2014 CPI elective class, Tonnetta shared her organization’s efforts and eventual success of getting a local cultural landmark restored—the SEPTA “Bus Barn”, a former trolley depot built in 1905. Threat of demolition mobilized the community to form the CDC with restoration of the Barn as their first project. The process of mobilizing, fundraising, and building relationships to completion took nearly 10 years. Here are some key lessons Tonnetta shared.

  • Be consistent with your community engagement- use your networks to get the word out
  • Use the strengths of your membership to good advantage
  • Build relationships! Elected official, institutions, nonprofits, everyone who has an interest
  • Research & document neighborhood landmarks- build your credibility
  • Learn the process- proposal through completion
  • Find the $$$
  • Neighborhood planning- know what’s important in your community
  • Perseverance- don’t drop the ball! Pass priorities on to new leadership

Tonnetta acknowledges that it may take longer than you anticipate to get a project done, but if you stick with it and are willing to learn, you’ll be rewarded!