Kevin Upshur always listened to his mother. Disturbed by the violence she saw in the Strawberry Palace neighborhood, she often urged him: “We have to do something to help the children.”
After Shirley Upshur died, Upshur converted the neighborhood corner bar his family once ran into an after-school retreat for children.
The Strawberry Mansion Education Center, located at 2946 W. Dauphin Street, opened in 2008.
Since then, he has not only provided books and after-school homework help for the children, but also rented vans to take them on field trips.
He and other volunteers took students from one of North Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods to New York, to Washington, D.C., to Harrisburg, and to the Muhammad Ali fighter training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
“I wanted to take them to see seats of power like Washington and Harrisburg so they could understand where the elected people of their community were making decisions that affected them,” Upshur said Friday.
“To have a vision of the world, these children have to leave their community. I have met children who have told me that they are afraid to leave the city.”
In the past few years, Upshur has secured funding to renovate the education center. But he would tell people that the center needed a truck for field trips.
On Thursday afternoon, Phillies Executive Vice President Dave Buck, Philly Fanatic, and others from the Phillies and Chevrolet organization visited the Education Center to deliver the new 2023 Chevrolet Savana 12-seat.
The Phillies called the learning center “a free safe haven for children that provides after-school and summer programs for children” in grades 5-12, and described Upshur as a “hometown hero.”
Upshur retired from his job as a teen counselor at the Juvenile Justice Center about 18 months ago.
“It was an answered prayer,” Ashor said. “I’ve been talking to people to try to figure out how to make this happen.”
Upshur said he may have been noticed by the Phillies after the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE presented the 2023 Chairman of the Year Award to Donna Allie, founder and president of Team Clean Inc., a commercial janitorial services company.
As the award winner, Alley was then able to recommend that a local nonprofit receive a $5,000 donation, he said.
“I was there, but I didn’t know she was going to name us the nonprofit award winners,” Upshur said.
He said the Phillies also reported seeing a video of the Strawberry Palace kids on a field trip to Muhammad Ali’s training camp. Upshur said he is grateful to the Velez family, Barlow Chevrolet, Allie and others who have spread the word about the work being done at the Strawberry Mansion.
Ed Barlow, vice president of Barlow Chevrolet Automotive Group, drove the truck to the center carrying 1993 National League champion Fanatec and Phillies players Milt Thompson and Mickey Morandini.
Upshur said he doesn’t consider himself a “hero” at all. He also does not consider himself an important figure in the neighborhood.
“I was always a kid who listened to my mom,” Upshur said. “I’m just doing God’s work through my mom.”