A young woman named Sabina was beaten, raped and murdered outside her home in north central Philadelphia last week. As of today, there have been 28 homicides and 80 rapes recorded in Philadelphia this year, devastating to love ones and wrenching to communities. As I write, hundreds if not thousands of people have gathered for a memorial send off for Sabina in the community-owned park and gardens called Liberty Lands, among them several who are very dear to me and are very involved in organizing the event.
Local businesses, friends and neighbors have raised over $40,000 for Sabina, including $25,000 as a reward for the apprehension of her killer. They have flown her family from Hawa'ai and will cover the memorial and funeral expenses. They are looking out for each other the way sometimes happens in small towns and closely knit neighborhoods,which is what the Northern Liberties section of the city is today thanks to more than a decade of extraordinary grassroots locally-driven urban renewal.
The few young urban pioneers who put down roots in what was in the early 1990s a blighted region of abandoned industrial sites and decaying tenements came to invest in the neighbors as well as the neighborhood. One of my friends who moved here at that time says they took a practical approach to building community in what was then a virtual combat zone. They decided that they would support a single strip club that worked with the community and actively oppose any others. They had no parks so they created some. They organized. And things began to change.
The real estate boom that peaked in 2007 absolutely transformed property values and attracted upscale residences and businesses, but many long-term residents remain. The area is a mosaic, a patchwork of colors and textures, of building up and coming down, but it is vibrant and it is not on life support. It is safe to park on the street. But it is still not safe for a young woman to ride her bicycle home alone at night.
Sabina Rose O'Donnell technically lived in an adjacent neighborhood in North Philadelphia, but that does not matter to the many people from far and wide who are bravely bearing witness to her murder and celebrating her life today. She was by all accounts a vibrant and much loved young person who moved freely through these neighborhoods until the night of her death, and she loved Liberty Lands. I am deeply moved by the massive show of support from so many there today, and very very proud of what they have done and continue to do.
The clouds wept for Sabina yesterday, and now there is sunlight in the Northern Liberties. In spite of everything. And because of everyone.