Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Philadelphia

Why Down North Pizza plans to open a tech education space

Muhammad Abdul-Hadi, the owner of the Strawberry Mansion pizzeria, announced his latest initiative to give back to the community.

Muhammad Abdul-Hadi. (Courtesy photo)
What do pizza and tech have in common? For starters, a name.

Muhammad Abdul-Hadi, owner of Down North Pizza in North Philadelphia, this week announced his latest initiative to give back to the community: Down North Treehouse, a nonprofit with a plan to offer free IT literacy and life skills training.

Down North Pizza, located in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, seeks to employ previously incarcerated people and train them in a culinary career. Abdul-Hadi said the Treehouse is an extension of this desire to give back to the community.

This space will house all of the work he hopes to do as founder and president of the Down North Foundation, but specifically it will be a space to educate young people in the community about technology.

“The idea is that we’re trying to combat the preschool-to-prison pipeline by providing a secondary or post-secondary education for the youth in that community, ” he told Technical.ly. “We’re focusing on all things that are in the tech sector.”

He wants to expose the young people of Strawberry Mansion to gaming, graphic design, video production, coding and augmented reality among other topics. The focus on tech stems from the fact that kids use a lot of technology already in their daily lives, but don’t necessarily know how it actually works.

Outside of the Down North Treehouse

Outside the Down North Treehouse building. (Courtesy photo)

Abdul-Hadi said he wants this project to be a place for young people to gain tech skills, so even if they don’t go to college, they can still get good jobs. According to Momin Sheikh, the cofounder of Down North Treehouse who also works in real estate, they are working on making connections for programming and for helping young adults  get jobs after completing the program.

“I think technology is the future,” Sheikh said. “I think it’s a place where minorities, especially underprivileged minorities, are really underrepresented.”

He added that many tech jobs don’t require a four-year degree, so it’s an industry that Down North Treehouse could actually prepare young people for after graduating high school.

Abdul-Hadi already has a space set aside: a former library at 2529 W. Lehigh Ave. He met with City Councilmember Curtis Jones to pitch his idea, and the City of Philadelphia ended up donating the library space to Down North Treehouse, he said. A member of Jones’ staff confirmed this to Technical.ly.

Inside the Down North Treehouse

Inside the the Down North Treehouse space. (Courtesy photo)

But now that they have a space, Abdul-Hadi and his board are trying to raise money to renovate the space and get programming off the ground.

That’s why they are hosting a gala on Friday, Nov. 11 called “Magic at the Mansion to raise money.

The goal is to open the space in late 2023 or early 2024, though Abdul-Hadi said they would like to pilot their programming prior to a grand opening.

“It’s a part of the commitment that I made to kind of rebuild and revitalize the community from within, with the people who already live there and resided there,” he said. “So it’s just a continued journey to improve the quality of life and just the living of the people in the neighborhood.”

Rendering of the Down North Treehouse

Rendering of plans for the Down North Treehouse renovation. (Courtesy photo)

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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