Fairhill is a section of North Philadelphia known for its rich Puerto Rican culture and comradery but is haunted by its crime. Also known as “El Centro de Oro” or, the Golden Block, Fairhill is split in half between those that came to Philadelphia for the chance at a better life and those that attribute to the violence that has earned the area the title of the most dangerous zip code in Philly.
Many groups and individuals are trying to ease the drugs and shootings, specifically Taller Puertorriqueño, Congreso, and Robert Smith-Shabazz.
Smith-Shabazz is a Philadelphia native with two loves: his music and his art. He can play Soprano, Alto, Baritone and Tenor saxophone, as well as various percussion instruments, his favorite being the Bongos. Having dedicated his entire life to carving Bongos, portraits, and other items out of wood, he decided to open a studio in the heart of the Golden Block, which is on North 5th Street between Lehigh and Indiana Avenues.
Every morning, Smith-Shabazz, hired by Taller, cleans and sweeps his part of the block from 9 to noon. After that, he crosses the street to Taller where he patiently works on his latest masterpiece, an elaborate tree carving. He believes his efforts will inspire people to take better care of their neighborhood, themselves and each other. After his daily carving, he returns to his studio where he spends the day carving various portraits of Fairhill residents and celebrities; practicing on the bongos and his various saxophones; and looking for new inspiration.
As a young boy, he was influenced by many musicians, in particular John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.
How did he know that this was the path for him, I asked. “It was the gift that evidenced itself,” he replied with a smile.