Last week Felix Torres-Colon passed away. Felix was truly one of the good ones — someone I looked up to during his time in Camden at St. Joe’s Carpenter Society, who I saw as a leader in the field of community development, and as the type of compassionate friend I often strive to be. I wanted to share a few memories:
One of my favorite memories with Felix was the last time we got to sit down and talk. I was visiting him at New Kensington CDC, and he talked me through how the organization had intentionally shifted from being “the white CDC” to incorporating anti-racist practices throughout the organization. One of the most meaningful was the simplest — for many of the organization’s positions (particularly the community-facing ones) they’d stopped requiring bachelors degrees. They’d seen a huge increase in the diversity of their applicants, found fantastic candidates, and their work had changed from being done to community to being done with community.
One year, Felix invited my entire class to New Kensington CDC to learn about the work his organization was doing. He was frank with them as he talked about the ways opioid addiction had changed their work — and how they’d had to respond to a community asking them for help both on that front, and in the face of the march of gentrification. I still remember being touched that an executive director would take hours to be with my class — and even go so far as to order them lunch!
Lastly, I just want to say, Felix was unbelievably generous to me. Whenever I’d reach out, he found time to sit down and talk to me. I looked up to him, admired his voice, and will miss him dearly.