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                              Unity Community Center

                                        Junious Ricardo Stanton

 

Unity Community Center was founded in Camden New Jersey thirty-five years ago to provide a place where strong discipline could be infused through art, music, martial arts, history and culture. The founders Robert and Wanda Dickerson have made it their life mission to teach African dance and drumming, martial arts and numerous other programs in a loving, caring family style environment.

For the Dickersons this is a family affair with a distinctive mission. Now their children and grandchildren are actively involved in the programs and are working to establish and maintain the Unity Community Center as an institution dedicated to empowering the community.

“My wife Wanda and I started Unity Community Center in 1983 because we saw the decline of the inner cities not just in Camden but all over America. The at-risk communities were suffering a serious image problem, crack cocaine was coming in, in the early ‘80’s we saw the decline of the inner cities with businesses moving out and the mom and pop stores were leaving Camden. A friend of mine said it looked like they dropped a bomb on Camden on Broadway (a main street in Camden) and it wasn’t getting any better” Robert Dickerson shared.

In the ‘80’s the Dickersons started local programs in Camden New Jersey centered on what they enjoyed and were involved in for years, African dance and martial arts. Robert explained how it came about.  “I was doing boxing and karate in North Philadelphia and Wanda’s stepfather introduced us.  She had been doing African dancing with the Arthur Hall Dance Ensemble since she was in junior high school.”

Robert and his two brothers were active in the Nation of Islam which had a major influence on him and Wanda was greatly influenced by Arthur Hall. When they met, Robert and Wanda discovered they had a lot in common, their love of Black people, African history and culture and a strong sense of self-determination.

After they married, his mother-in-law told them about available houses in Camden New Jersey, they checked out some houses and decided to move there. They kept their martial arts and dance activities in Philadelphia and lived in Camden for ten years before they decided to open the Unity Community Center. 

With the help of a friend they acquired a storefront building on Mt Ephraim Avenue in the heart of Camden. Robert and Wanda created a non-profit organization and started teaching African dance, praise dancing, drumming, disciplined drilling and martial arts at a reduced rate because they knew most of the people couldn’t afford to pay. “We chose to be a non-profit because we knew on the market what we are offering the people couldn’t afford it.”

Deeply embedded in all their programs is the teaching of the importance of personal discipline and African culture. “The difference in our martial arts program is we don’t just give them martial arts, we give them what we call a holistic program of their culture. If you don’t know who you are or where you are going it is impossible to love yourself so our methodology is we put the martial arts the culture, the disciple and spiritual parts in our program together it gives the child a chance to grow properly.” 

The Dickersons are known for their African Dance and Drum ensemble and their national championship UPK Pasha Generals martial arts program but they have successful education, training and enrichment programs also. Fees and donations from the performing and martial arts programs help fund everything else they do.  The Dickersons have never enjoyed the financial support of the City of Camden, Camden County nor the state of New Jersey.

 They expanded their program offerings to include: music training, cultural enrichment, entrepreneurial training, productions and promotion and leadership development.  Their goal is to provide strong healthy role models, discipline, and a quest for excellence for toddlers to elders. They now have two facilities the original Camden location and 5532 Chester Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.

Over the years they have maintained their programs without grants or funding from any governmental agencies. On Sunday November 4th at 5 PM they will hold their annual fund raising banquet and talent showcase. The Dickersons are celebrating thirty-five years of continuous community service and honoring numerous community servants, cultural icons and activists. The UCC’s performing art groups will perform and this is always a stunning display of talent and precision.

 The banquet will be held in the grand ballroom of the Clarion Hotel at 76 Industrial Highway just south of the Philadelphia airport. This is their signature fundraising event. Tickets are still available and can be purchased Online at www.unitycommunity.com. Unity Community Center is a 501C3 tax exempt nonprofit organization; part of the ticket price is tax deductable.

I hope to see you there for this great event.

 

                                                -30-

 

 

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