What are you doing to stop violence in Philadelphia?
"Our children are being murdered in the streets of Philadelphia and no one is upset."
— Donnie Andrews
Each time I think of the horrific murders of the 20 Connecticut schoolchildren and the six adults who died trying to protect them, my mind wanders back to the sign Logan resident Donnie Andrews was carrying when I met him one October day in Nicetown.
The sign's simple sentiment stirred a flood of emotions for me, feelings that continue to haunt me each time I hear news of the Connecticut tragedy. I feel guilt because, like many Philadelphians, I haven't done enough to stop the violence in our city, and I feel shame because Andrews is right.
Our children are being murdered in the streets of Philadelphia, and no one, including me, is sufficiently upset. But the tragedy in Connecticut has given us an opportunity to reflect, to be upset, and hopefully, finally, to do something.
A call to action
We need neighbors making a difference, and we need them doing it now, because in a city where there have been 321 murders in 2012, the vast majority of them with guns, we have to do more. Not just because of what happened in Connecticut, but because of what's continues to happen here.
There are shootouts on street corners, domestic violence that ends with gunshots, robberies punctuated by bullets and bouts of gun-fueled anger on crowded buses and trains.
Perhaps it's naïve for me to believe that Philadelphia should have been upset a long time ago. Maybe it's idealistic for me to think that our people must rise up and say to our leaders, to our neighbors, to our children, and even to ourselves, that we've had enough violence.
But as I've continued to write about these issues, I've seen a pattern emerge. Many of us believe it's hopeless. Some believe that murder is an unavoidable fact of life in cities like Philadelphia, but an anomaly in what one reader called "safe sleepy suburbs." Others believe that the people of Philadelphia — a city with over 28 percent poverty and a majority-minority population — are incapable of change. Still, others believe that there is nothing regular people can do.
I believe each of those theories is untrue.
What we can do
If we've learned nothing else from the mass shootings in places like Columbine, Aurora and Newtown, not to mention Oak Creek, Wisc., Seal Beach, Cal. and Carthage N.C., it's that there is no such thing as a safe sleepy suburb.
When we see people like Geoffrey Canada turn around an entire blighted Harlem community, affecting everything from schools to housing to community programs through his Harlem Children's Zone, we know that there is no such thing as a hopeless community.
When everyday people like Erick and Sherilyn Daniels invest in their community's most vulnerable and improve the quality of life on their block, we know that each of us can do something.
The question for all of us is this: What are we willing to do?
Get in touch
With that in mind, I'd like to hear from you.
Tell me what you're doing to make our city safer.
Whether it's sweeping your street or creating opportunities for children, participating in Town Watch or getting to know your neighbors, I want you to share what you're doing.
If it's real and effective, I may feature you in Neighbors Making a Difference — a blog and video series about people who are doing their part to stop violence in Philadelphia. I want others to know about your actions to improve people's lives.
Maybe if you tell your story, we can get others do their part, too.