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After getting shot, a Philly lawyer is looking for a safer place for his family to live | Jenice Armstrong

Spencer Hill no longer feels safe in his West Philly home after being shot while returning home from work Monday evening.

Spencer A. Hill Jr., an associate at Ballard Spahr, stands outside his West Philadelphia home on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Hill was shot on his block in an apparent robbery attempt Monday night.
Spencer A. Hill Jr., an associate at Ballard Spahr, stands outside his West Philadelphia home on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Hill was shot on his block in an apparent robbery attempt Monday night.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

What often happens once African Americans become upwardly mobile is that they flee the inner city in search of better schools and less crime.

When they do that, they deprive black communities of much-needed role models while also draining the city’s tax base.

“If enough people do that, then the community ultimately suffers,” said Spencer A. Hill Jr., an associate with Ballard Spahr, one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms. “We felt, if we stayed, we could help rebuild this place, but it’s just too dangerous and we can’t do it.”

He and his wife made the difficult decision to move from their beloved West Philly home after Hill was shot outside it Monday night.

“This guy, he’s still out there. We don’t know who he is or what his motives were,” Hill said of his attacker. “We don’t know anything, so it’s better for us just to get out of here.”

Hill, a litigator, had worked until 8:30 p.m., and then boarded the Route 42 bus at 18th and Walnut. He disembarked at 52nd and Spruce, a short walk from his home. As he headed toward his rowhouse, Hill noticed a guy standing on a corner, near an alley where men sometimes congregate.

The man called out to him, “What’s up?” Hill responded, “What’s up?” and continued walking. He had almost reached his door when he heard footsteps charging up behind him. Hill, who stands a strapping 6 feet, 4 inches tall and has a sturdy build, turned and assumed a fighting stance. His attacker froze, apparently caught off guard. A few seconds passed, and then, inexplicably, a shot was fired.

His wife, Keshia Jones, had just laid down when the gunshot rang out. Through a bedroom window, she could see someone running down the street. As she rushed downstairs, cell phone in hand, she heard a scream. Just then, Hill came through the front door, clutching his chest.

The police responded quickly and took Hill to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where doctors opted not to remove the bullet lodged deep in his upper abdomen.

We’re lucky to still have him.

“The guy has been doing nothing but giving back to the community his entire life,” Mark S. Stewart, Ballard Spahr’s chairman, told me. “He does a lot of pro bono work to better the community.”

Crimes like this scar the city in incalculable ways.

"If we are going to ask people like Spencer to come back home, we can’t be worried that they are going to be shot,” Stewart pointed out.

Ballard Spahr has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Hill, who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Akron law school in 2018, was a summer associate for the firm before being hired last fall as an associate.

Before then, Hill, who grew up in South Philly at 19th and Carpenter Streets, had played basketball for St. John Neumann High School before taking a circuitous route to his education that included about five years driving a tractor-trailer. He’s currently assigned to Ballard Spahr’s general litigation division, but also spends time doing pro bono civil rights cases, most dealing with prisoners’ rights.

“He’s a gem,” said Mu’min Islam, general counsel for Universal Cos., who has worked with Hill. “In the big firms, you don’t see a lot of African Americans. Probably less than 5 percent. African American males, probably less than 2 percent.”

In other words, he’s one of the elite few.

With so much promise.

And it was almost lost. And for what?

So, now, Hill’s packing up. He doesn’t know where he’s going, or if he and his family will be back.