West Philly Local is proud to present a series of vignettes of local block captains drawn from Them That Do, a multimedia documentary project and community blog by photographer and videographer Lori Waselchuk. We profiled Waselchuk in 2011 upon the release of her book Grace Before Dying. She lives in West Philadelphia and Them That Do begins with stories close to home. West Philly Local will publish a ten-part series featuring a block captain profile every Wednesday.
Waselchuk is an award-winning photographer and author. She began Them That Do as a 2012 Pew Fellowship for the Arts.
Thirty years ago Gregory Pac Cojulun walked into his first neighborhood meeting. He walked out a block captain. “I was ambushed,” Cojulun said with smile that hinted that all was forgiven. “I just wanted to see how things were going and they nominated and voted for me.”
Now in his sixties, Pac Cojulun needs a cane to walk, but rarely sits down. He is still the block captain, but his bigger commitment is given to Malcolm X Park.
Cojulun likes to network on behalf of his neighbors. “I’ve met a lot of different people in different agencies. I’ve gotten to the point I can call people up and they recognize me.” He is also the president of the board that maintains Malcolm X Park, which he says can demand 60-70 hours of his time a week.
“Our park was a thug park in the 60’s and 70’s. Nobody wanted to come through it,” said Cojulun. Through a grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society nearly twenty years ago, a small group of residents began to clean up and restore the park. Today the park is an active cultural and social center in West Philadelphia. Cojulun says that it has been a slow process to revitalize Malcolm X Park and the board’s ability to plan programming and make improvements depends on donations.
Cojulun’s pride, though, is apparent. During a recent theater event, he walked slowly around the park’s centerpiece, a large round gazebo, checking in on young and giggling high school actors. He proudly watches and greets them as they prepare for a theatrical performance. “We try to make sure everything is done right, and make sure the people are happy,” he said.