Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rosa: The Philadelphia Hero

Philly's Joe the Plumber:

Rosa Bonds, 75, a feisty warrior who organized other fearless seniors to battle drug dealers on the streets of East Germantown, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 14 at Einstein at Elkins Park.

In search of a better life, Rosa Mae Rice moved from Spartanburg, S.C., in the fifth grade to live with her aunts in North Philadelphia. After graduating from William Penn High School, she married George Bonds in 1952, and the couple raised five children in Tioga.

Mrs. Bonds moved her family in 1960 to a white stone Victorian twin on quiet, leafy Pastorius Street off Germantown Avenue - still searching for that better life. When gangs, drugs, guns, firebombs and prostitution plagued her neighborhood, she decided to fight instead of run.

A block captain and ward leader for decades, Mrs. Bonds, who ran for state representative a couple of times, was vice president of the Germantown Community Improvement Alliance in the 1970s. She and about a dozen neighbors boarded up drug houses and chased off dealers. They patrolled neighborhoods throughout the city with community organizers such as C.B. Kimmins and the Guardian Angels.

In the 1980s, Mrs. Bonds founded East Germantown Against Drugs (EGAD) with Willie Witherspoon. She marched with ward leader Joseph C. Messa and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who fought for city funding for the antidrug task forces.

"Most of the members were seniors," Kimmins said. "Rosa was a tiny, courageous fighter. She was not afraid of anyone."

At 60, Mrs. Bonds was the youngest in her group in 1993. About a dozen strong, the stubborn band of seniors did battle three to five nights a week on the shadowy drug corners in East Germantown, such as one near Baynton and Pastorius Streets. They covered their white hair with white EGAD helmets, wore blue jackets, and shined flashlights at dealers.

One night in 1994, a young thug turned off Osceola Street onto Pastorius with an arrogant strut. Mrs. Bonds, who knew many of the dealers and users in the neighborhood, said, "This one's a dealer."

She raised her megaphone and blared in a threatening, taunting voice: "Drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer."

The thug did not stop, so Mrs. Bonds launched another chant: "You can run, but you can't hide. We charge you with genocide."

The punk waved a plastic bag of drugs at the group, but he did not sell them that night on that street. The corner belonged to the 5-foot-3 grandmother and her courageous band of warriors.

Four generations lived in Mrs. Bonds' home, and all of them were cheated by crime. She taught her children at a young age to stay away from the window and hit the floor if they heard a shot.

"My mother worked at the Obama headquarters at Wayne and Chelten Avenues until two weeks before her death," son Chester said. "She had a stack of voter-registration forms inside our front door. Anyone who came in had to register. If she saw drug dealers outside, she went out there with a fistful of forms and said, 'I hate you, and I want you out of here, but register to vote first.' "

In addition to her son Chester, Mrs. Bonds is survived sons George and William Sr., daughters Rosalind and Anor, and 10 grandchildren. Her husband died in 1999.

A funeral service was held Oct. 18.

Memorial donations may be sent to Mothers in Charge, Allegheny Business Center, 2233 W. Allegheny Ave., Philadelphia 19132.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or

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