Solutions to gun violence in Philadelphia are bubbling up from neighborhoods

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Mantua resident Rikeyah Lindsay was at home one fall day in 2015 when gunshots rang out at the corner store at the end of her block. It was early morning and neighborhood kids were on their way to school, she said, when 28-year-old Maurice McDonald was shot several times before dying in Presbyterian Hospital.

“It came full circle for me in that moment,” Lindsay told Billy Penn. “I felt like my grandmother dragging kids into my house.”

The next day, she and her mother marched downstairs Mount Manor CDC and asked the West Philly community organization how they could do more to combat gun violence in the area. Together they planned educational campaigns and a peace rally. And in 2018, Lindsay became the organization’s Public Safety and Justice Coordinator.

Lindsay said her efforts worked for a while and the area around her home was quieter. But the moment felt bittersweet. The violence didn’t go away – it moved elsewhere.

“I can’t say that felt like an achievement because crime has moved two blocks down,” she said.

This is the reality of gun violence in Philadelphia. A recent analysis of county-level shootings from 2015 to 2021 by Billy Penn found that gun violence radiates outward from hotspots and can wax and wane from year to year.

Shootings this year are to overtake on the way last year’s record of over 2,300 incidents. Meanwhile, some local anti-violence nonprofits struggling to get their hands on funding from city funding programs. Combined, this fuels high levels of fatigue and disillusionment in areas constantly grappling with gun violence, such as West Philly and Kensington.

The city recorded 43 shootings in Mantua last year. A Map from the city’s regulatory office highlights four neighborhood hotspots. One of them is at 40th and Aspen, a few blocks from where Lindsay lives.

In September, Lindsay’s 7-year-old son witnessed one quadruple shooting at a crossroads just a few yards from her house. Even more frightening, she remembers him telling her the noise didn’t startle him.

“We feel like this every day,” Lindsay said. “Some days you just feel numb. And some days you feel like you can’t live like that.”

Courtesy of Dimplez 4 Dayz

Studies show that people recover from past traumatic experiences possibly more vulnerable on the side effects of new trauma: Anxiety, exhaustion and dissociationamong other mental and physical reactions.

“If there’s no healing from grief, if we hear about gun violence every time we wake up, then we can’t be healthy people,” said Brenda Mosley, a longtime resident of Kensington.

Mosley works as a Community Connector at North Kensington Community Development Corporation and directs the non-profit organization Through faith, love and healingwhere she coordinates self-help groups for mothers and fathers who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

The Kensington community is at a tipping point when it comes to managing overlapping crises Gun violence and opioid use.

“We went from freedom to pretty darn close captivity,” Mosley told Billy Penn.

During 2021, she and NKCDC staff witnessed ten shootings on a portion of Tusculum Street near her office. “I’m aware that my work can get a bullet in my head,” NKCDC executive director Bill McKinney wrote in a February comment.

Mosley recalled a recent shooting at the corners of Somerset Street and Helen Street. The victim tried to run to her neighbor’s house for protection before dying from his gunshot.

Seeing these visceral experiences reduced into statistics and data points can be odd and even contribute to trauma, she said, although she appreciates the consistent reporting of shootings across Philadelphia.

“[There’s] always some level of stress,” Mosley said. “But the stress increases when we hear statistics like the homicide rate.”

Brenda Mosley leads a By Faith, Love, and Healing meeting
Rian Watkins for Billy Penn

When Mosley launched her Kensington program for grieving mothers last year, demand was so great that she made room for a cohort of fathers.

The self-help group, which meets every Monday and Friday through June, consists of 12 women and 13 men. With free open registration, discussions are facilitated by residents as they near the end of their trauma journey and climax different ways of dealing with grief: through art therapy, exercises and conversations.

“There are many different types of losses in any group, so these different perspectives help each other,” Mosley said.

Efforts like this are not uncommon. up the block maintains an active database of resources related to coping with violent trauma, including West Philly’s Antiviolence Partnerships of PhiladelphiaNorth Phillys responsible mothers, and Every murder is real from Germantown.

In December 2021, the city issued the final round of its Grant program to expand the anti-violence community Award winners who support “organizations with a proven track record of delivering quality anti-violence interventions.”

Dimplez 4 Dayz is a non-profit organization founded by Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown
Courtesy of Dimplez 4 Dayz

Often, communities dealing with intense gun violence are also the ones driving solutions.

“When I look at my neighbors, there are citizens of the community who want change,” said Lindsay from Mantua.

She points up Dimplez 4 Dayz, a Southwest Philly teen nonprofit, Akayla Brown, founded to provide full-service services to underserved community members. What started as school bag rides and lunch breaks at local bus stations grew into a resource center on Haverford Ave. 3509. The group hosts an after-school personal development program that helps 50 teenagers across the city write resumes, obtain employment papers and prepare for college.

“We’re a safe haven,” Angela Richardson, CEO of Dimplez 4 Days (and Akayla’s mother), told Billy Penn. “The youth involved in our programs were victims of violence, but they were off the streets and committed acts of violence.”

Lindsay believes the news media could do more to combat retraumatization. In her opinion, comparing shot histories with community solutions would go a long way to alleviating disillusionment.

“As much as we emphasize the negative, it’s important to see that not everyone in these communities is dying, killing, or letting their fear hold them back,” Lindsay said. “Seeing people try to make change tells others they can too.”

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