For four years, I’ve called Philadelphians to the Art Museum steps to put a face on the epidemic of gun violence gripping Philadelphia.
What started as a small gathering of mostly mothers of murder victims, put together on a week’s notice after the Pulse nightclub shooting, has grown every year.
Everyone has a reason for coming out -- to remember lost loved ones, in hopes that in a city that each year claims hundreds of victims and leaves a wake of grief and trauma, something might finally be done to turn the tide.
I have lots of my own reasons, including the hope that as people stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder on those iconic steps, they realize that’s how close the impact of gun violence is to all of us.
But that’s also how close the support and possible solutions are.
As I told the people gathered at the steps under threatening skies Wednesday afternoon, we are friends, family, and neighbors, a community of allies who can make a real impact, real change — together. I really believe that.
That’s why year after year I ask people to come, commit to one another and to the vital cause of making our city safer. Our elected officials must be held accountable. But the answers aren’t all in City Hall.
It’s about connections, and I saw more of those happening this year. In the shared grief of Jami Amo, a Columbine school shooting survivor, and Lisa Espinosa, a mother whose son was gunned down in Philadelphia in 2016, despite the tragedies occurring years and more than a thousand miles apart. In the shared experiences of Luis Berrios, who was shot and nearly killed during a botched robbery in 2018, and Jalil Frazier, a young father who was shot and paralyzed after he protected three children during a robbery earlier that same year.
Afterward, Frazier told me that he has found the most comfort in other young survivors trying, as he is, to adjust to a life forever changed by gun violence. As we sought cover from the rain under a tree while his wife went to get their car, he wondered if there was a local support group of people paralyzed by gun violence.
If it doesn’t exist, we decided, then we’d create it.