When black children are shot or killed, people often ask, “Where are the fathers?”
On Monday night, they were front and center at Community College of Philadelphia at a #ManUpPHL event organized by Inquirer columnist Solomon Jones. When Jones, who is also a radio personality and community activist, asked the males who were also dads to stand up, most of those there rose to their feet.
I was there, and believe me, it was a beautiful sight to behold — a room full of African American men, dressed in business suits or Timberland boots and jeans, gathered together to express their collective outrage over recent shootings involving children.
Jones was moved to do more than opine on the airwaves or in his column after his 15-year-old son’s classmate Zyqueire Echevarria was killed last month.
“As I stood over the casket of that 15-year-old boy and looked down into that casket, and saw that this little boy had been buried in his school uniform with a Fortnite banner on his casket … all I could see was my own son. All I could see was the fact that black men were doing this to our children," he told the audience. “We could no longer talk about the racist system and all of these other things.… Tonight, it’s time to man up.
“So, I put a call out to black husbands and black fathers and black uncles, and you know what?" he continued from the stage. “Y’all showed up. We are here because that little boy in the casket is not the only one. We are here because just over the weekend, a 10-year-old boy was shot at a high school football game. We’re here because a 10-year-old was shot walking home from school. We’re here because a 2-year-old was shot in her own home.… We’re here because our children are falling victim to the violence. We’re here because we’re going to stop the violence before it starts.”
It’s a noble goal. We can no longer sit back and wait for local authorities to stop the gun violence and keep us safe. As I wrote in my last column, Philadelphians need to step up.
Granted, similar efforts over the years to unite black men around such issues have famously petered out, for a variety of reasons. I’m not naive enough to think that this might not happen this time around. It could.
But I’m a little more optimistic than I might otherwise be because of the advent of social media, which can help volunteers stay better connected. At Monday night’s meeting, Jones made a point of pausing so attendees could download the Band app, a free communication tool that will let them text other groups and track what they are doing.
Also, I appreciate that #ManUpPHL wants to connect existing organizations that already are doing the work as opposed to creating a new group.
“We’re trying to bring a sense of cohesiveness to what everyone is doing," Jones explained.
On Saturday, #ManUpPHL will support the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia’s rally at 4 p.m. at Torresdale and Margaret in Frankford, where the 10-year-old was shot in the head while walking home from school Nov. 6.
Then, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, #ManUpPHL will sponsor the first in a series of mentoring sessions for men and boys who are struggling. These gatherings will be held simultaneously in the community rooms of area ShopRite stores — 2800 Fox St. in Nicetown; 2471 W. Cheltenham Ave. in Cheltenham; and 24th Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philly — at 6 p.m. Participants need only show up.
On Monday, attendees were asked to contribute one hour each week to #ManUpPHL. When Jones asked the men to stand if this was doable, they all rose to their feet.