Jul 7, 2014

Up With Hope, Down with Dope: The Legacy of Herman Wrice

by: Nadera Rahman

Herman Wrice transformed Philadelphia  through his enduring commitment to social activism and belief in the transformative power of a strong community. A native of West Philadelphia, Wrice experienced firsthand the gang violence and drug culture that infiltrated the lives of many youths in the neighborhood. Through the creation of an organization to inspire entrepreneurs and future leaders in underserved neighborhoods, and his work as a sports league organizer for teens in Mantua, he mounted his strong movement against neighborhood crime. When a star athlete missed an important game because of his drug addiction, Wrice broke down the door to the crack house with a sledgehammer. The sight of the young kids and community members in the house struck a chord with Wrice and served as a catalyst for the founding of his organization Mantua Against Drugs (MAD).

Wrice encouraged a direct intervention approach to crime and developed the Wrice Process where groups of neighbors organized against and directly confronted street level drug dealers in their community. The movement quickly garnered support from Mayor Wilson Goode and local law enforcement and helped to ease the previously held misconceptions and biases between residents and police that were perpetrated by drug dealers to their advantage. Armed with the slogan, “Up with Hope, Down with Dope”, and united against a common enemy, the community members succeeded in closing and demolishing known crack houses and marching against drug dealers who operated freely on street corners. His movement gained momentum and evolved from “Turnaround Mantua” to “Turnaround America”. Wrice encouraged communities to “stand up and don’t be afraid to tell them [drug dealers] to leave.”

Decades later, Wrice’s spirit and determination to reclaim his neighborhood lives on in Philadelphia and in the mission of Mural Arts Philadelphia. Where Wrice used free speech and the power of protest to affect change, we prefer to use art as our medium to transform individuals, communities, and the the world around us. No matter the tool however, these changes are made possible only through the collaborative efforts of communities and the mutual understanding between members of a group as they work towards a common goal. Through his passion and advocacy, Wrice  awakened the power that lies within us all to to shape our futures into whatever we desire.

The original mural in tribute to Herman Wrice was recently obstructed by the construction of rowhomes. An exact reproduction, painted by master muralist David McShane, can be found at 33rd and Haverford streets and continues to honor the life and legacy of a true community activist.

Photos by Mike Reali for Mural Arts Philadelphia

Last updated: Sep 11, 2020

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