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DB4 Group Offers Mantua Youth Opportunities for Growth, Change

October 6, 2012

Last summer, Dante Lambert could not find anything to do. He was 16, out of school, and couldn’t find a job. There weren’t any places he could just go and hang out. Tensions were running high in the neighborhood, and he worried for his safety. Lambert said, “I actually was in the street hanging with other people who were fighting, and I got caught up in that.” The police intervened in one of the fights and Lambert ended up in jail. Now he is on probation.

This summer was different, for Lambert and 200 other youth in Mantua. Da Bottom For…, also known as DB4, brought together young people from the area to be proactive about making things better for the children living in Mantua, a neighborhood in West Philadelphia that is also known to some residents as “The Bottom.”

“We are young people from the neighborhood,” DB4 members explained in a group interview. “We are coming up with different activities and programs for us to be involved, so the younger kids can see us being the example and inspiration.”

Drexel University and Custom ED learned about DB4’s efforts in Mantua, a community that borders Drexel’s campus. They approached DB4’s membership for advice and support in implementing the Mantua In Action youth summer sports program. Through the program, some 178 middle school students were able to participate in various sports activities for 10-25 hours per week.

“I wanted to participate so I could get out of the streets, too, along with the kids,” said Lambert, who volunteered to help implement the program and was able to satisfy his community service requirement for probation. “I had 30 hours of community service and I actually completed 36 hours, and I want to get some more hours,” he explained.

In this way, young people like Lambert were given an opportunity to do something positive for their community, regardless of their role in the program. And their contributions to Mantua In Action were significant. Youth members of DB4 helped create the “Mantua In Action” branding of the program, completed extensive community outreach to get youngsters (and parents!) involved, and connected young adults with a paid career development opportunity as junior coaches.

“We were a little worried at first, but we did a lot of street outreach, going door-to-door for about two weeks,” said DB4 organizer Vinte Clemons. “In the end, we got more kids than we needed.”

In addition, some 17 young adults received professional training in sports education and a basic coaching certificate from Drexel’s Sport Management Program in the junior coaches program. Clemons said, “That gave teenagers a chance to be off the streets, as well as keeping them out of trouble.”

Appropriately, DB4 is proud of their contribution and the results. At the same time, they have bigger goals for improving the neighborhood and getting more of the community involved. “The idea [of Mantua In Action] originally was to make the community more proactive, not just in the sense of sports, but just by being involved,” said Clemons. “So by the parents even getting their kids to come, that’s reaching a goal.”


DB4’s organizing has been supported by the We Are Mantua! Choice neighborhoods initiative with resources from a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) CHOICE planning grant and Philadelphia LISC’s Sustainable Communities Initiative in West Philadelphia (SCI-West).

The group meets weekly and is open to participation from any young person in Mantua. At weekly meetings, the group enjoys communal meals and basketball, which helps to build community among the group and provide folks a place to have fun and be active after school. The young adults see this kind of regular programming as essential for the younger kids in the neighborhood. “If I had had somewhere to go play ball, with a structure, I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the bad things I was doing,” one member reflected.

Other efforts led by these young leaders include regular HIV/AIDS screenings and prevention education. Some 40 youth were tested among a community that is at high risk for HIV, yet often unfamiliar with testing and HIV prevention.

In September, the group hosted a “Community Cookout” focusing on voter registration and violence prevention. They also went door-to-door informing residents about the Pennsylvania Voter ID law (before a judge finally issued an injunction this week, allowing voters to head to the polls without ID). And over the past 8 months, DB4’s membership has helped We Are Mantua! inform and engage residents around the neighborhood transformation planning effort by going door-to-door.

The power of the program is moving beyond the boundaries of DB4’s weekly meetings and special activities. DB4 has earned the respect of people of all ages, people on all sides of the escalating division and conflict in the neighborhood. “No matter what you got going on outside of here, when you have a DB4 shirt, all that other stuff shuts down,” Vinte described.

Though DB4 is advocating for good choices and positive neighborhood change, its membership is made up of all kinds of young people, including those who have a checkered past. Many of them have been arrested. Many have done things they are not proud of. All of them have lost someone close to them to violence. “I have been locked up a bunch of times. I’ve done my dirt in the streets,” one member explained, “but the whole time I had a heart for trying to make stuff better.”

There is certainly positive momentum around community safety in Mantua. We Are Mantua! was recently named a recipient of a Department of Justice Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program award. As DB4 members understand first-hand the dynamics that have led to increased crime and violence in Mantua, they will be valuable stakeholders to ensure the program’s success.

DB4’s experience of the lived realities in the community means they can talk about community change and it not sound phony. To these young people, the change is personal and worth working for. “I personally came here because there is an opportunity to change,” Quintessa explained. “Anybody can change. Anybody needs that.”

> Find and Like DB4 on Facebook. Interested parties can contact Vinte Clemons at

> Read more about Mantua In Action or the Junior Coaches Program.

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