BY KENNEDY GRIFFIN AND ALISE MACKEY WITH ASSISTANCE FROM IRAISA ANN REILLY
Every other Saturday since October, a group of fifteen young women of color have gathered together to learn more about the history of African American women in Philadelphia. It’s been a great collaboration between The Colored Girls Museum in Germantown, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and various museums and archives throughout the city.
As part of the program, called Performing Identities, we are in search of the colored girl—our mission is to discover her story, a story which up until now has gone untold. A history that has been buried within the stacks, preserved by those brave women who held onto these tangible items we would come to discover today. The items that would help us to discover her, in hopes of discovering something about ourselves.
In January, we were divided into cohorts that would delve further into certain places that shaped that history:
We are the young women of the Ivy Leaf cohort, tasked with researching and performing a piece that would tell the story of the oldest African American school in the city of Philadelphia. This school, which was one of the largest of its kind in the nation, was founded in 1965 by Liller and William Green. In searching through fifteen boxes of materials at the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, we learned that Ivy Leaf began as a pre-school when the Greens could not find a suitable school for their eldest daughter. It grew into an elementary school, later adding a middle school, with various locations.
Ivy Leaf closed in 2008, but its legacy lives on through its students who went on to become successful lawyers, doctors, teachers, politicians, artists, and more, contributing to their communities and owing their successes to the nurturing environment and education that they received at Ivy Leaf.
We were honored and grateful to speak with Pam Coleman and Jan Green, the daughters of Liller and William the last time that we met. Pam and Jan were students, and later worked at the school for a number of years after graduating college.
Since we’ve been learning about Ivy Leaf from the archives, it was cool to get the perspective of these women who were students and employees of Ivy Leaf at one time. Before meeting, we were excited, but not sure what to expect. As it turns out, Ms. Pam and Ms. Jan were so nice, so it was fun to interview them. They were friendly and they had awesome stories to tell. You would ask a question and they would be very specific in their answer, which was very helpful. You could just tell that Ivy Leaf had a profound impact on their lives.
We were struck by how successful everyone at Ivy Leaf became. Just hearing Miss Jan say she went to Hampton and Miss Pam went to Emory was impressive. Both women had all different kinds of jobs and had so many different talents that they could exhibit and they gave back to Ivy Leaf. When they think of alumni, they think of lawyers and educators and doctors- people who are extremely successful and it was such a nurturing environment that gave you confidence and really appealed to the entire self, that so many of its students became amazing members of society. They talked about how when they left Ivy leaf they moved from a predominantly black environment to schools that were predominantly white. The education they received at Ivy Leaf gave them a confidence and preparation going into these spaces knowing that they had received an education that surpassed most other schools.
We are creating different kinds of pieces to share at Activating the Archive.
I (Kennedy Griffin) am creating a poem about Ivy Leaf. After meeting with Miss Pam and Miss Jan I have a better Idea of what I would like to write about.
I (Alise Mackey) am creating a monologue. The fact that they spoke of Ivy Leaf in such a positive way makes me rethink how I want to write the monologue. They way that they spoke of Ivy Leaf, it’s as though it is a place that is still living. The things that they founded are things that are still done today. I think the tone of my monologue will be something that is bittersweet, however after meeting with Miss Pam and Miss Jan it will be more about the fact that more that even though Ivy Leaf is physically over, it is something that continues in another form through its students.