Meet the Philadelphia women at the heart of Heat Response

Women have always been at the heart of community activism. Both around the globe and here at home, women have led the fight for justice and equality, for safer communities, and for the health of their children and their neighbors. They are often early to recognize the need for action and among the first to step up to tackle a community challenge, especially because they are among the most vulnerable. This is particularly true when it comes to the threat of climate change, which disproportionately impacts women on a worldwide scale.

As we observe Women’s History Month, we recognize the local leadership and meaningful engagement of Heat Response’s community leads, who collaborate with fellow community members and local artists  to drive change that will address harmful urban heat.  They began shepherding the project in their local Philadelphia neighborhoods in summer 2020 and are excited about the implementation phase in the months ahead.

The Heat Response project is fortunate to include the partnership of three women tackling the question of what can be done about urban heat, head-on.

Meet Charito Morales of Fairhill, Phyllis Brennan of Grays Ferry and Sulay Sosa of southeast Philadelphia.

In Fairhill, community lead Charito Morales is attuned to the needs of her neighbors through her work with the Providence Center, an organization committed to providing educational opportunities for local community members.  Morales says her neighborhood had one of the hardest summers in recent memory due to urban heat and COVID-19 preventing residents from entering public cooling areas like the library. To address these issues, Charito is pushing for a more sustainable Fairhill, with parks and other green space that will cool down the entire neighborhood. She is also hopeful for the future and is excited for a young generation of Fairhill residents who are “taking ownership of their community, want to be part of something, and are willing to create positive changes.”

Similarly in Grays Ferry, urban heat is impacting the community in the ways that are harmful to both physical and mental health. A lifelong resident of the neighborhood, Heat Response community lead Phyllis Brennan has always been invested in the health of her neighbors and the importance of community space, serving as a member of the Friends of Lanier Park. A park The Trust for Public Land revitalized with help from the community in 2018. She has witnessed the effects of climate change firsthand and she says residents in Grays Ferry struggle to find areas to cool down: “Lanier Park is a meeting place for all varieties of people in the neighborhood, this is where we come together. But there are issues; it can be hard to find shade and the playground can sometimes become too hot for children to enjoy.”

Another woman making a difference in her neighborhood is Sulay Sosa, the community lead in southeast Philly, an area rich in diversity but lacking in green space. As a parent of a Southwark Elementary student, Sosa is invested in improving her community for her children and so many others. “After I learned more about global warming, I learned this is something that affects all of us. It’s really important to start within your own house,” Sosa shared through a translator. Sosa is an organizer of the Latina Moms initiative and she’s working with artist Jose Ortiz-Pagan to focus on the ways urban heat affects the immigrant community.

Each woman represents diverse and varied experiences, but they share the common bond of the detrimental impacts of urban heat upon their neighborhoods. They bring unique perspectives that  inform the Heat Response project’s mission and are helping steer our efforts. To reach community driven results, we must hear from the community, and these women are their voices.